As I mentioned in a previous post, my last full day in Cairo included meetings at the American University in Cairo (AUC). The University still owns its original downtown campus, just off Tahrir Square. That campus is quite beautiful, with architecture drawing on local Islamicate and other influences. The Mugamma3 (‘Complex’), the neo-Stalinist government behemoth nearby that overshadows Tahrir itself, looks even more alien when seen next to the AUC’s more harmonious buildings.
Recently, AUC has moved. It is no longer in Cairo.
As part of the Mubarak regime’s planned expansion of Cairo into the desert, in commercial and residential developments that have little to do with the lives of the vast majority of Cairenes, AUC moved out of town to a new campus. Before I visited, various people said to me things like “you might as well be in Dubai” or “you might as well be in Arizona” when speaking of the architecture. When speaking of the 50-60 minute bus ride, they tended to say things more like “you might as well be in Libya”.
So far as I can tell, the new campus is quite functional. The offices I saw were fit for purpose. The library is of a suitable size and seemed to have plenty of natural light. There are paved areas and green areas for sitting and talking, which is really the main point of a university, after all. None of the buildings is too tall. None that I saw was terribly ugly and some were quite elegant.
It’s more or less inoffensive. Architecturally it could be, indeed, in Arizona or Dubai. It doesn’t much speak of Cairo, but has the aura rather of a franchise. It is a node in the network that is globalized higher education. Out there among the gated suburbs and half-finished high-rise commercial buildings, it fits in rather more comfortably than one might wish of a university.
And that’s a real shame, because there is talent on that campus, among faculty and students, and Cairo could benefit from having that talent integrated into the heart of the city. Not halfway to Libya.