Mohamed Kamal Elshahed

Surveying Modern Architecture: The Case of Cairo

MIT Architecture | Spring 2021 Lecture Series
In collaboration with the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture
6:00 PM, webcast

Architectural history continues to be governed by European thought and the approaches of art history that emerged from European and American institutions in the past two centuries. Despite recent efforts to expand the geographic scope of architectural history to encompass a more global view, such histories continue to be linear and focusing on the architect as artist. Historians tend to be preoccupied with questions of style, influence and genealogy. Cairo, like many cities across the world, particularly the ‘Global South’, presents challenges to such approaches as architects often operate anonymously as part of state institutions in autocratic regimes, styles are the exception not the norm, and where architectural history is best read as a networked set or relations rather than a linear progression. This lecture will present the book Cairo Since 1900: An Architectural Guide as an effort to engage with these issues and to produce a widely accessible and non-hierarchical history of architecture. This history is particularly urgent as the city grapples with waves of destruction and demolitions. Book site

After his lecture, Elshahed will be joined in conversation by AKPIA PhD candidates Manar Moursi and Sarah Rifky. 

Mohamed Kamal Elshahed

Mohamed Kamal Elshahed is a curator and architectural historian focusing on modernism in Egypt and the Arab World. He is the author of Cairo Since 1900: An Architectural Guide (AUC Press, 2020), the first substantive survey of modern architecture in Egypt’s capital spanning 226 sites. He holds a Masters from MIT’s Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture and a PhD from NYU’s Department of Middle Eastern Studies. His work spans architecture, design and material culture. He is the curator of the British Museum’s Modern Egypt Project and Egypt’s winning pavilion, Modernist Indignation, at the 2018 London Design Biennale. In 2019 Apollo Magazine named him among the 40 under 40 influential thinkers and artists in the Middle East. In 2011 he founded Cairobserver to stimulate public debates around issues of architecture, heritage and urbanism in the region. In Spring 2020 he was the Practitioner-in-Residence at the NYU Kevorkian Center in New York.

Manar Moursi is an artist, architect and a writer. She is a PhD Candidate in the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture and the History, Theory Criticism program. Her research interests are in affect and feminist theory, sensory atmospheres, decolonization, and 19th/20th C global art and architecture. She is the co-author of Sidewalk Salon (2015) and is currently working on a forthcoming artist book on new mosque architecture in the outskirts of Cairo, tentatively titled The Loudspeaker and The Tower.

Sarah A. Rifky is a writer, curator and art educator. She is a PhD Candidate in the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture and the History, Theory Criticism program. Her dissertation is on Cultural Infrastructure, in Egypt during the fifties and sixties. She is an MIT Legatum and Jacobs Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship 2020/2021. She is the founding co-director of the art space Beirut in Cairo (2012–2015) and author of the eponymous Qalqalah (2014– ).

Image Credits:

01-03 Cairo Since 1900: An Architectural Guide, Mohamed Kamal Elshahed.

04 Mohamed Kamal Elshahed portrait. Courtesy of Mohamed Kamal Elshahed.