Capital Vision

SOM is to masterplan a new Egyptian capital city to “welcome the world”. Nick Ames explains

SOM envisages a sustainable Egyptian capital.
SOM envisages a sustainable Egyptian capital.

Architect firm Skidmore, Owings & Merill is to design a new capital city for Egypt.

The country’s political leadership has announced the vision for a major new city which will become the new governmental and business capital.

Capital Cairo is the name of the project by the Egyptian Ministry of Housing and Capital City Partners Ltd, a private fund of global investors.

SOM’s team will include Phillip Enquist, partner in charge of city design, Daniel Ringelstein, director of urban planning and George J. Efstathiou FAIA, RIBA consulting managing partner.

The firm’s city planners say they developed the initial framework and core principles of a sustainable new city.

The company said Capital Cairo has been “designed in harmony with the local environment and shaped by the natural landscape, the vision for this new city was created to specifically meet the needs of a modern city with a burgeoning economy.”

The development is intended to relieve the congestion of Greater Cairo’s high-density population that is expected to double by 2050.

“While we are at the earliest stages of design, the new city will be built on core principles that include places of education, economic opportunity and quality of life for Egypt’s youthful population,” said Enquist.

“The new city will be designed and built in harmony with nature as a showcase of environmentally sensitive development.”

The site is defined by wadis and a topography, which will be preserved and enhanced for future generations. The future city will be compact in urban form and anchored by concentrated development districts, including – a central business district, a government administrative district, a cultural district, a knowledge and innovation district, and over 100 diverse residential neighbourhoods.

“The Capital Cairo complements the national vision for an Egyptian renaissance. This is a rare opportunity for the people of this vibrant nation to express and build their aspirations of a better life for all,” said Ringelstein.

“The future city will strengthen and diversify Egypt’s economic potential by creating attractive new places to live, work and welcome the world.”

A spectrum of medium and high-density residential neighbourhoods will be laid out with sensitivity to the land, with vegetated wadis embracing natural breezes for passive cooling of buildings and city places. Every neighbourhood will be centered on a community public space surrounded by local shops, schools, religious buildings, and civic amenities.

The architects said that while these will be new in every way, the design of the neighbourhoods will reflect Cairo’s traditional development patterns.

Capital Ideas for new cairo

The project is President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi’s economic turnaround drive.

The new capital will be developed on a land area of around 700km2 – around 12 times the size of Manhattan Island – located between Cairo and the Red Sea.

Officials hope the development will accommodate 7m people and create 1.5m jobs, according to documentation made available at an economic summit in the coastal resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. The move could relieve some pressure on Cairo, which has a metropolitan population that is straining the city’s congested infrastructure. And a population forecast to grow to 40m by 2050 from its current figure of 18m.

The UAE is set to be a partner in the development, which will be led by Capital City Partners, which describes itself as a private fund of global investors that will cooperate with the Egyptian Ministry of Housing.

Egypt’s investment minister Ashraf Salman said the project would be entirely funded by private investors. “The government will incur zero cost in the city, and this will be totally developed, masterplanned and executed by a private sector company.”

The proposed city would have “large green spaces, an international airport, a theme park four times bigger than Disneyland in California, 90km² of solar farms, and a train link with Cairo, according to Egypt’s housing minister Mustafa Kamel Madbuli.

The project will also involve relocating government buildings and foreign embassies from central Cairo.

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