Cairo from Above: A Guide to Cairo’s Informal Communities and Rooftop Practices


In Greater Cairo, Egypt, informal settlements have emerged as the predominant form of urbanization, accommodating over 40% of the city’s population. Seventy-five percent of urban areas across Egypt are unplanned. For over fifty years, informal settlers have suffered from marginalization, government negligence, and socio-economic exploitation. Recent changes in planning regulations, political dynamics, and economic demands have led to disorganized urban fabric and inefficiency in streetscapes. In response to limited open space on the streets, informal settlers have turned to autonomous rooftop living. 

This thesis aims to comprehensively document and shed light on the diverse rooftop practices within various informal settlements in Cairo. This research examines the role of rooftop spaces in Cairo’s informal settlements as indicators of adaptation practices and urban dynamics, exploring their potential for community development within informal settlements. 

The thesis emphasizes the significance of “architecture without architects”, where rooftop architecture supplements the lack of basic social and economic services in dense informal settlements. Urban informality in Cairo is not a binary condition but rather embodies a range of degrees of formality. The study presents two concurrent concepts for dealing with Cairo’s density: the concept of “cities within a city” or an archipelago model, and the notion of raising the ground where rooftops become dual spaces to street level. Relying on fieldwork, the thesis acts as a city guide seen from above, uncovering the unseen aspects of Cairo, from its street level to its rooftop spaces. By presenting a catalogue of rooftop practices, the thesis challenges negative perceptions associated with these communities, showcasing their spatial creativity and ingenuity. Overall, it offers a layered narrative of Cairo’s “invisible cities,” emphasizing the significance of rooftops as evidence of residents’ spatial agency fostering social and economic change in informal neighbourhoods. 

The examining committee is as follows:

Supervisor: Lola Sheppard
Committee member: Rick Andrighetti
Internal-external reader: Anwar Jaber
External: Mohammed Soroor

The defence examination will take place:
Tuesday, September 26, 2023, 11:15 a.m.
In person, in the Riverside Gallery.
A copy of the thesis is available for perusal in ARC 2106A.