Ancient Egyptians developed a sustainable civilization in part by utilizing climatic cycles to improve agricultural production, which led to the establishment of urban settlements in the Nile River Valley. Today, parallel to the Nile River runs the highway, and the railway is in the vegetation strip. Every 120 kilometers there is a city of roughly 200,000 inhabitants, which is completely unmetropolitan and provides basic city services for the region. The crops are always the same: clover, rice, maize, corn, cotton, sugar cane, and tomato.
This agricultural-urban condition may be called the “Nile City,” a 900-km-long, 10–15- km-wide, high-density, rural strip in the desert, stretching from Assuan to Cairo. It has a population of roughly 26 million distributed over a surface of about 12,000 km2, with a density of 2,166 persons/km2 (Compare this to the Milan Metropolitan Region with a density of 1,868 persons/km2, or to the Dutch Randstad with a density of 4,651 persons/km2). Contemporary Egypt’s dramatic population increase, from 30 million in 1963 to 75.5 million in 2008, demands the investigation of new strategies. The Nile City is becoming more and more unsustainable.
Among the critical questions facing the Nile City are: If 1000m2 of farmland are necessary to feed one person, is it possible to feed the 26 million people of the Nile River Valley with just 12,000 km2 of farmable soil, without necessarily resorting to mechanized agricultural production techniques? Can this region evolve from preindustrial to post-industrial without passing through a standard “industrial” phase? How will changes in agricultural techniques impact the organization of villages? Can the Nile City evolve towards a complex, hybrid, agricultural-urban condition?
Participants will be asked to consider: how to treat the Nile River Valley as an
experimental field for agriculture, as it was 6,000 years ago; the relation between the region in question and the desert; the Nile River as the metropolitan element in an entirely rural environment; how to read and represent the existing landscape; how to re-establish a link between the contemporary landscape and the ancient Egyptian culture; innovative and sustainable modes of transport, infrastructure and energy production.
The Nile City offers the possibility to discuss the relation between urbanism and ecology, between the city and the landscape, while moving beyond the usual ecofriendly rhetoric. Here environmentalism becomes an advocate for urban density at the scale of villages. The need to spare precious soil puts a limit to the growth of the villages. The preservation of agricultural areas in the upper Nile River Valley requires planning strategies and architectural solutions.
Researching the Nile River Valley landscape also provides an opportunity to investigate ways of representing contemporary landscapes using synthetic mapping. Ancient Egyptian painting can provide a resource for developing an iconic alphabet for describing the contemporary landscape. A specific master class will be dedicated to this issue.