Revolutionary Modernism? Architecture and the Politics of Transition in Egypt 1936-1967

by Elshahed, Mohamed, Ph.D., NEW YORK UNIVERSITY, 2015, 467 pages; 3685862

Abstract:

This is a study about Egyptian architectural culture. It asks how did Egypt's architectural modernism converge with the country's political transition from monarchy to military republic? After 1952, the self-proclaiming revolutionary regime utilized architecture in its attempt to respond to pressing needs for development but also to signify its modernism and to render visible the arrival of a new revolutionary era. One way to understand this convergence of modern architecture and politics is by investigating Egypt's mediated discourses and images of postcolonial architectural and urban transformations. This is not a history of architecture and urban space as such. Rather, the present study considers the built environment as physical form that is embedded in discursive formations and visual representations that circulate through various media and move back and forth between the real and the imagined as architects, bureaucrats, politicians and city dwellers negotiate their positions to one another vis-à-vis the city.

The period bracketed by the crowning of King Farouk in 1936 and the near end of the Nasserist project following the military defeat of 1967 witnessed momentous political transformations on various fronts: National (Revolution), regional (Pan-Arabism), and global (Cold War and Third Worldism). It was also a period rich in terms of architectural production in Egypt, the Middle East and beyond as architectural modernism flourished internationally. In Egypt, during the 1950s images of new constructions, whether commissioned by the state or not, proliferated in the press, in advertisements, and in state publications as evidence of the country's revolutionary progress and quest for modernity. It is in this post-war, quasi-revolutionary context that, I argue, an adolescent Egyptian architectural modernist tradition became entrenched in national politics. The fate of Egyptian modernism and the state became interlinked, the failures of one contributed to the demise of the other.

The case of Egypt provides a complex narrative of how artistic and architectural modernism was implicated in anticolonial national struggles. I focus on specific actors, their discourses and institutions to trace the trajectories of architectural modernism as experienced in Egypt during the middle of the twentieth century. Local experts such as architect Sayed Karim confronted a double challenge: First, how to negotiate an architecture that is at once international yet nationally situated? Second, how to maintain professional autonomy in the face of shifting national politics?

AdviserElla Shohat
SchoolNEW YORK UNIVERSITY
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsAfrican history; Middle Eastern history; Art history; Architecture
Publication Number3685862

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