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Founded in Egypt in response to the Arab Spring, Cairo Lab for Urban Studies, Training and Environmental Research (CLUSTER) is an interdisciplinary platform for urban design and research working to establish a critical space for urban discourse by engaging questions of public space and specifically, urban informality.

CLUSTER was founded in 2011 by architect and urban planner Omar Nagati and artist and designer Beth Stryker in response to the dramatic changes that Cairo was undergoing. The activities of the platform are divided into four areas: design projects, research, programs and pedagogy. 

The platform has given rise to many forms, including The Cairo Urban Research Library (CURL), a free, open access research library with a focus on art, urban studies and architecture, available in English and Arabic. Another initiative, Cairo Downtown Passageways, is an urban design and art project that reimagines the city’s historic passageways and promotes more diverse, inclusive and accessible areas.

CLUSTER helped to organize the Street Vendors Initiative, in which the research team worked to help street vendors unionize and understand how public space is shared. The team brought together shop owners, residents, developers, drivers, women’s right groups, traffic and municipal authorities and created a common space for discussion. 

CLUSTER also created a mapping publication, Cairo Downtown Passageways: Walking Tour, that maps the city’s back alleys, side streets and in-between spaces, creating an alternative way to imagine the development and revitalization of the city. The platform has published over half a dozen books, one of which, Housing Cairo: The Informal Response, was awarded both the 2016 DAM Architectural Book Award and the 2017 National Urban Design Book Award. 

More recently, CLUSTER has focused on the project, “Informality as Creativity.” Over 70% of housing stock in Cairo is produced informally, posing questions about the role of architects and designers in shaping their city. In response, the project aims to bring together architects, designers and art students with local craftspeople and artisans, providing a direct exchange of formal training alongside practical and grounded knowledge. Further, the project aims to promote small businesses and enhance the visual and environmental qualities in informal areas through direct dialogues with local stakeholders.

We had a chance to speak with Beth and Omar about the role that design can play during a moment of instability on our podcast, Social Design Insights. Listen to the episode below.

53 | Designing After Revolution


Social Design Insights would like to thank all those who make our weekly show possible: Baruch Zeichner, our Producer and Sound Engineer, Donna Read, for producing our video content, and Leah Freidenrich, Director of the Curry Stone Foundation. Our theme music for 2017 is "Sorry" by Comfort Fit. The break music is "Hawary Al Qahira" by Hossam Ramzy from his album "Sabla Tolo II - Further Journeys Into Pure Egyptian Percussion."