Cairo Lab for Urban Studies, Training and Environmental Research (CLUSTER) is a design practice and a critical space for urban discourse founded in Egypt in response to the Arab Spring.
It was founded by architect & urban planner Omar Nagati and artist and designer Beth Stryker at the end of 2011 in response to the dramatic changes that Cairo was undergoing at that time. Then, the city was in a political vacuum and security was almost non-existent: people started self-organizing and informal practices took over the management of urban spaces.
Nagati and Stryker began with observation and documentation – seeking to record the massive changes underway. These early efforts eventually catalyzed as multifaceted platform that would allow them to pursue their research interests while also functioning as an architecture office.
The platform itself has given rise to many forms since then. Among them:
The Cairo Urban Research Library (CURL) is a free, open access research library with a focus on art, urban studies and architecture, available in English and Arabic. Another of their projects, the Street Vendors Initiative, also began with mapping. Their research team worked with other organizations to help street vendors unionize and fundamentally understand how public space is shared. Upon understanding the spaces themselves and the origins of conflict, the team sought to develop engagement mechanisms to bring together shop owners, residents, developers, drivers, women’s right groups, traffic and municipal authorities so as to create a common space for discussion. The work is really about sharing the street in a productive way. Post-revolution, parties came to find that they had overlapping interests, and without overt state control, conflicts ensued. Other projects, like the Cairo Downtown Passageways projects and Creative Cities, all deal with similar themes.
We had a chance to speak with Beth and Omar on Social Design Insights, about the role that design can play during moment of instability. Please join the conversation here.