Bernd Kniess, Anna Richter

»The city is where difference lives and where the struggle with one another over the shape of the city, the terms of access to the public realm and even the rights of citizenship constantly have to be renegotiated. Out of this struggle emerge new modes of living, and new modes of in- and co-habitation are produced.« (Henri Lefebvre).

This book

The present publication documents the workshop series organised by Urban Design students from HafenCity University Hamburg and political science students from Cairo University. It addresses students of various disciplines (architects, urban designers, urban planners, political science, sociology, ethnography, etc.). Both, the organisation and the actual content of the workshops in Hamburg and Cairo were planned and managed by students for students. While this presented a valuable practice and learning experience, it was only possible with support and advice from professors and staff from both institutions involved.

The Documentation

The workshops documented here present a snapshot of urban design research and practice – as developed, practiced and taught at HCU. It is the documentation of a process – not a methodology handbook or teaching tool. It contains case studies, rather than comprehensive research projects. It is a compilation of work resulting from two workshops. Instead of presenting results of two case studies, the documentation gives insights into working and thinking practices.

The Master Program Urban Design at HCU Hamburg

The Master of Science degree programme Urban Design at HCU is based on a broad conception of contemporary urban structures, networks and processes. In the light of the challenges posed by a dynamically changing built and social environment, new kinds of solutions must be developed that create solid grounds for sustainable and open-ended urban planning processes. The master degree programme teaches the methods and tools for substantiated research and design practices that emphasize conceptual working processes, in-depth analyses, experimental intervention formats and process-oriented planning strategies.

The UD approach

Following an interdisciplinary approach, the Urban Design programme provides a setting in which the different departments and areas of research at HCU can interact: Architecture, Urban and Landscape Planning, History of Architecture, Urban Theory, Urban Sociology and Project Management. The educational programme thus combines the design skills needed for an architecturally oriented urban design practice with technical, social-scientific and communicative competencies required by an urban planning practice characterized by task management. The master programme Urban Design concentrates on strengthening this cross-over of disciplines in order to access new areas of research and practice in the built environment.

Rather than finding solutions to problems and implementing these, UD is concerned with opening up and unlocking alternative ways of approaching and setting into perspective the urban. Taking into account practices, processes and their materialisations, this UD approach departs from and cultivates a relational understanding of urban and non-urban space as always co- and re-produced. Urban Design as practiced and taught at HCU is concerned with understanding the urban in its multiplicity before any specific questions are asked or directions followed. Specifically, the HCU approach to Urban Design seeks to translate rather than offer solutions simply to be implemented; it aims to provide an understanding of possibilities rather than prescribe what is to be done. Centrally, it works interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary, drawing from architecture, urban studies, sociology, geography, design, planning, engineering, but also from the arts, literature and music. It is concerned with intercultural perspectives, intervening – through research, practice and performance – into debates and discourses. Following Mark Terkessidis (2010), the notion of interculture, rather than integration, enables us to capture ongoing processes of mobilities and migration in the ‘parapolis’, a coexistence of different cultures and multitudes none of which can be considered hegemonic anymore. Urban Design is reflective and reflexive in that it continuously questions traditional approaches and perspectives and proceeds in iterative steps reflecting on questions asked, material collected, methods used and assumptions made.

‘What we believe is necessary is a strategy for dealing with complexity and, related to this, insecurity. We are searching for tools and methods that can help us use complexity and insecurity productively.’ (Kniess 2011, 130)


Departing from the notion that cities are always in flux, more process than product, we are concerned with those who live in cities and contribute to this process through their everyday practices and daily routines as much as with abrupt changes and longer term developments. In order to understand how cities function, how they tick, we therefore need to engage with those who live in cities and who co-produce cities as socially produced and materialised spaces. Such a relational approach following Lefebvre consciously departs from dividing the urban into different disciplinary perspectives, according to which planners know how cities are planned and built, architects are experts of construction and design, sociologists are concerned with populations and milieus and political scientists analyse governance structures. Bringing these disciplines together in an effort to learn from one another is not only motivated by an increasing need to bring into conversation the professional silos, it also entails an engagement with the emerging interstices between the disciplines, the gaps in between and overlapping areas of specific perspectives, approaches, didactic and theoretical concepts. Learning from each other invites to question one’s own disciplinary taken-for-granted truths as much as listening to another’s seemingly basic – but importantly: curious – questions. In the context of the Hamburg-Cairo Workshops, ‘learning from one another’ was both the envisioned aim and the methodological basis.

The perhaps at first impression rather ‘thin’ results or findings need to be seen in the context of intensive (but largely undocumented) discussions. Different disciplinary backgrounds and directions have made it paramount to find a common language. This, in fact, was more important than presenting results in the form of finished solutions – just as it corresponds with UD’s priorisation of process over product.


While the workshop and visit to Cairo took place just after the ‘Arab Spring’ movement, the focus here is on the everyday life of dwelling and living-as-practice. The ‘Arab Spring’ movement is undoubtedly an urban phenomenon: its materialisation and culmination on Tahrir Square is only one example of a new vitality and renewed meaning of public spaces – despite the frustration with relatively meagre results of the actual ‘revolution’ (cf. Lopes de Souza & Lipietz 2011: 620-621).

Al Darb Al Ahmad

Al Darb Al Ahmad presents an urban context within which two extreme urban development processes can be observed: while the neighbourhood is one of the poorest in Cairo and simultaneously features one of the richest concentrations of Islamic architecture, characterised by informal developments, building activities and exchanges, it is equally subject to interests pursued by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), an organization that focuses on the physical, social, cultural and economic revitalisation of communities in the Muslim world, thus representing the more formal interests 1