Potential in the Existing

Russell Scheer and Ángel López


Throughout history, humans have dominated the massively changing scape of the planet. We are responsible for changing the land with the building of cities, revamping of landscapes, and the creation of structures to house our infinitely growing population. The only possible way for humans to survive is to satisfy their five basic human needs which are Water, Food, Shelter, Security and Love. The constantly changing population that has inhabited The Grande Hotel in Mozambique, Africa since 1965 is a smaller scale example of the idea that humans will meet their needs of survival and eventual expansion by using the recourses that are directly accessible to them. The scales of these events in history depend on the size of the population being affected. Dating back to earlier history, there are larger scale events such as the inhabitation of the City of the Dead in Cairo, Egypt during the late 1700s and the occupation of Jerusalem by the Ottoman Empire beginning in 1500. It is evident throughout history that many groups of people have sought for the fulfillment of their basic needs by physically engaging the architectural landscapes that exist and adjusting and assimilating these entire natural environments and preexisting infrastructures to meet their needs of living and increase their chances of development.

Squatters Occupy the Grande Hotel of Beira

Beira, Mozambique; 1955-Present; Fransico de Castro

The Grande Hotel Beira in Mozambique. This image shows the luxurious hotel that once was, and the dilapidated slum community that currently occupies the space. http://architectureindevelopment.org/project.php?id=122#!prettyPhoto
The Grande Hotel Beira in Mozambique. This image shows the luxurious hotel that once was, and the dilapidated slum community that currently occupies the space. http://architectureindevelopment.org/project.php?id=122#!prettyPhoto

There are various incidences throughout history in which a building or site has changed purpose, depending on the surrounding population and needs of those people. An architectural typology known as informal community living has emerged from the various ways in which groups of people settle in locations that would otherwise serve different purposes. Urbanization, as well as various social, economic and political issues has caused the displacement of large groups of people in less developed nations. In the Southern region of Africa within the nation of Mozambique, is a hotel named The Grande Hotel Beira. In this hotel structure, there have been groups of people constantly occupying the space, for a wide variety of purposes. Originally a luxurious hotel for the elite, over time has been stripped of its ornament to its current state as a slum community filled with over 6,000 homeless settlers. “The hotel still throbs with the activity of a place where thousands eat and sleep, but no one here is a guest or employee” (Murphy 2013). The building was originally built as one of the most luxurious hotels in Africa in the year 1955, but shortly after its establishment, its purpose changed due to the needs of the population surrounding it. “Like much of Africa, Mozambique was a colonial territory. The Portuguese first arrived there in the 1500s and for centuries the local population lived under foreign rule” (Schiller 2012). During the mid 1960s, a war for the colony’s independence struck devastation through the land, displacing large groups of people, leaving many jobless and homeless.

This is an image of the Grande Hotel Beira in Mozambique in its current dilapidated state. http://architectureindevelopment.org/project.php?id=122#!prettyPhoto
This is an image of the Grande Hotel Beira in Mozambique in its current dilapidated state. http://architectureindevelopment.org/project.php?id=122#!prettyPhoto

Throughout the war on independence in Mozambique, The Grande Hotel Beira became a barrack for the soldiers fighting for their nation. Once a luxurious haven for the privileged, the hotel’s original function was required to change in order to accommodate the needs of the surrounding population due to the desperation caused by the war. Although the hotel was not destroyed, the war made it very difficult for the citizens of Mozambique to resume using the building for its original purpose. “During the civil war the building began to fill with refugees and today a few of them remain. They came to Beira looking to settle but could only find shelter at the hotel” (Schiller 2012). Over time, walls were dismantled, people created families, grew businesses and lived out their lives within the skeleton structure that was left remaining after so many years of dilapidation. Just as the entire hotel’s function changed, many of the original ambitions of the architect needed to change as well. “The hotel’s outdoor swimming pool is now used to wash laundry, while the pool changing room is used as a mosque” (Fallon 2011). Due to the lack of overseeing control, and the limited source of income, the hotel has become a deprived community that lacks the skills to develop properly. Although danger is prevalent and many people within this slum hotel are uneducated peasant people, there seems to be a positive aspect that emerges from the community that has been created there.  “Every ounce of reusable material — elevators, glass, iron, etc. — has been stripped and sold, making the hotel, which used to cater to white tourists from Zimbabwe and South Africa, a shell of its former self” (Schiller 2012). Currently, the people living within the ruins of the Grande Hotel Beira are known as ‘whato muno’ (not from here), which signifies the transition of the hotel’s occupants. Over time, the residents have made attempts to develop strategies in which they can possibly function in a more civilized manner. “Some of the building’s original squatters have claimed rooms as their own and now act as landlords, letting them to others” (Fallon 2011). The people living within the hotel’s structure do not necessarily see the building as a place or hub for opportunity, but a transformable shelter in which they can survive and eventually develop their lives.

Ground Floor Plan of the Grande Hotel Beira with some new additions and changes made to the original structure and site. http://architectureindevelopment.org/project.php?id=122#!prettyPhoto
Ground Floor Plan of the Grande Hotel Beira with some new additions and changes made to the original structure and site.
http://architectureindevelopment.org/project.php?id=122#!prettyPhoto

Settlers Occupy the Abandoned Gravesite Known as The City of the Dead

Cairo, Egypt; 1790

Receding into history, transitioning from the smaller scale of an individual building to the larger scale of a settlement is the example of the City of the Dead in Cairo, Egypt. The people of these settlements continue to follow the same idea of using whatever space and material is accessible, to satisfy the needs of housing as well as social, cultural and religious desires. The city of the Dead in Cairo, now considered one of the biggest squatting communities in Egypt, houses up to five million Egyptians. However this is not a typical squatter community as the inhabitants live in what traditionally was an Arabic Necropolis. This graveyard site has been influenced since its origin. During the Caliphate era when the Arabs conquered Egypt in 642, the Arab Commander ‘Amr ibn al-‘As established the first Egyptian Arab capital at Al Fustat as well as his family graveyard.

To the left, are the ancient tombs of the people of Cairo. To the right is a structure that looks as old as the tombs, where a resident lives with his family. This image was taken from within the walls of the massive gravesite in Cairo, Egypt known as The City of the Dead. http://2011cities.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/cityofthedead/
To the left, are the ancient tombs of the people of Cairo. To the right is a structure that looks as old as the tombs, where a resident lives with his family. This image was taken from within the walls of the massive gravesite in Cairo, Egypt known as The City of the Dead.
http://2011cities.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/cityofthedead/

This gravesite soon expanded as other Arab dynasties made additions to it. After the conquest, the burial staff and custodians to the noble’s graves began to inhabit these gravesites. These tombs consequently became glorified by the upper classes who “in order to perpetuate own memory”, “garlanded the tombs with gilded decorations with festoons, based on nature, flowers and fruits.” This in turn attracted many people in search of blessings (Wikimedia Foundation). During the Ottoman Empire, which existed from 1517 to 1798, there was a displacement between the Egyptian peasants and farmers who migrated to the cities in search of opportunity. Many of these people ended up living in the gravesites that would eventually become the City of the Dead. The expansion of the City of the Dead continued as the need for Housing increased in Egypt following the Ottoman era. Furthermore, the expansion of Cairo in the past century from 1 million to 17 million has created an unstable situation where high population, high rent and insufficient housing have merged to force people into creating different options of living such as the City of Dead.

This photograph was taken from outside The City of the Dead. Houses are dispersed amongst tombs and graves that have been there for centuries. http://2011cities.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/cityofthedead/
This photograph was taken from outside The City of the Dead. Houses are dispersed amongst tombs and graves that have been there for centuries.
http://2011cities.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/cityofthedead/

The City of the Dead now houses a population that for centuries has decided to stay and live with their ancestors in the tombs, and the large group of people that have no other choice but to live in-between the dead due to inadequate housing. This community creates a duality of life as it juxtaposes the living and the dead. People in search for the fulfillment of their basic needs and a possibility to thrive, are forced to the inexpensive conditions of living in this massive graveyard. The occupants do not have to pay rent and the city provides them with basic shelter, social interaction and the opportunity to earn enough to survive. The existing structure of the traditional Egyptian Tomb allows its inhabitants to mold them into residences. The existing areas of an ordinary house such as a common room, bathroom, kitchen and living spaces are all merged into one. The luxury of privacy is taken away in this type of dwelling to accommodate families into a space that meets their needs for shelter. An empty tomb in this case serves as the multipurpose space where a family of usually 5-6 individuals or in some cases more, can reside. Moreover the furniture of an ordinary house is replaced with the existing surfaces and other objects that are part of the graveyard. In the City of the Dead the graveyard markers suddenly become prime surfaces for kitchen tables and desks. Other adaptations include the installation of wires and ropes along the graves to hang clothes to dry. This infiltration into the existing site is also apparent in their daily activities. The residents are literally living in between the dead and use the gravesite itself as a means of income. Most of the inhabitants become tomb keepers and are economically comfortable enough to feed their families. Although these adaptations meet the basics of survival those who live in the community know that they could have greater opportunities outside the City of the Dead. A resident claims, “If I could get regular work outside we would have a normal life. Still we are earning a living here, life outside here is beautiful and better… If I get work outside the city of the dead I go and do that” (Irinfilms 2007). The words of this resident prove that this community does not reassure comfort and the idea of a better life but it shows how they can adapt the environment and the existing structure to fulfill their basic needs.

This image was taken from within one of the homes of a resident of The City of the Dead. 'Dead' center of her kitchen is the tomb of one of her ancestors where she goes on with her daily life. http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/egypt/cairo-city-of-the-dead/
This image was taken from within one of the homes of a resident of The City of the Dead. ‘Dead’ center of her kitchen is the tomb of one of her ancestors where she goes on with her daily life.
http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/egypt/cairo-city-of-the-dead/

Rebuilding of Jerusalem During the Ottoman Empire

Jerusalem, Israel; 1500s to Early 1700s

This image is of two Hasidic Jews overlooking the Western Wall within the old city of Jerusalem. In the distance is the Dome of the Rock, one of the holiest sites in the Muslim religion. This image represents the clash of cultures within the city of Jerusalem, due to its extensive history of inhabitants.
This image is of two Hasidic Jews overlooking the Western Wall within the old city of Jerusalem. In the distance is the Dome of the Rock, one of the holiest sites in the Muslim religion. This image represents the clash of cultures within the city of Jerusalem, due to its extensive history of inhabitants.
http://dalje.com/en/foto.php?id=19&rbr=20242&idrf=847613

Increasing the scale of the argument that people will adjust and assimilate entire environments to satisfy their basic needs is the continuously disputed city within the Middle East known as Jerusalem. The city is geographically a hill of many layers of rock, as well as historically a hill of many layers of people, buildings, and cultures that once existed there. The city of Jerusalem, currently the capital of the Jewish State of Israel, is considered home to various religions and groups of people who claim to have ancestral lineage to this city, dating back thousands of years. The city of Jerusalem contains history from 26 periods of time in which the people living there, inhabited, destroyed, and rebuilt various parts in order to satisfy their own sociological or economic needs. Jerusalem is located in the nation that is currently known as Israel but has changed names various times since its first known inhabitants in 4500 B.C.E. The idea that Jerusalem holds so much value to so many people is what keeps that area thriving as well as changing. Some building sites within the ancient city have been constantly rebuilt to suit the needs and wishes of the people that made up the majority of the population at a specific time. During the Ottoman Empire’s occupation of Jerusalem between early 1500s and late 1600s A.C.E., various sites in Jerusalem lost their original purpose and function to become more appropriate for the Ottoman population.

This image is a simple map of the current divisions in the old city of Jerusalem. Split into four sections by four religions and cultures that once inhabited Jerusalem and consider the city a holy site. http://travelogue.travelvice.com/israel/off-the-tourist-trail-in-old-city-jerusalem/
This image is a simple map of the current divisions in the old city of Jerusalem. Split into four sections by four religions and cultures that once inhabited Jerusalem and consider the city a holy site.
http://travelogue.travelvice.com/israel/off-the-tourist-trail-in-old-city-jerusalem/

To understand the development of Jerusalem’s history, it must be comprehended that Israel is a state under constant bombardment of beliefs and ideas in almost every direction. This barrage of influence has created the divided Jerusalem that currently exists into sections that are dominated by different religious and cultural groups. The Ottoman Empire that ruled Jerusalem during the 1500s was generally made up of Muslim Arabs whom which rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and modified sites within the old city to be used for religious purposes. Fortified on top of a hill, Jerusalem has continually been considered an optimal location for the settlement of groups of people. After various fires, natural disasters, and oppressive ruler conquests, Jerusalem’s appearance and function has been changed numerous times. Within the Ottoman occupation of Jerusalem, various sites throughout the ancient city were rebuilt and changed according to the wishes and desires of the ruler at the time. “Suleiman the Magnificent rebuilt the city walls, constructed the Sultan’s Pool, and placed public fountains throughout the city” (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2013). The changes that Jerusalem endured during the Ottoman reign eventually became historically important sites in which the population took it upon themselves to make architectural changes in order to better fulfill their basic needs. Under Suleiman’s rule “the ancient aqueduct was reactivated and public drinking fountains were installed” (Ottoman) which was a significant addition that helped rehabilitate the city to a better state of living. This aqueduct system that stretched through the entire city delivered water to its inhabitants, which thus allowed for the expansion of the people’s capabilities within the city. The rebuilding of the wall surrounding the old city of Jerusalem was associated with the communal desire of the people to secure themselves within a fortified location they could call their own. The wall that was built during the Ottoman Era is the wall that currently exists in Jerusalem, thus proving that these fortifications had a large significance in the survival of the various groups that inhabited Jerusalem throughout history. After over four centuries, the city of Jerusalem went under British control and was inhabited again by another group of people seeking housing, economic opportunities, and social advancements. As a basic human instinct, people will inhabit foreign spaces, in order to fulfill their desires for better living.

This map shows the old city of Jerusalem during the Ottoman Era. Sulieman the Magnificent rebuilt the walls and created six new gates to fortify the holy city. http://www.christians-standing-with-israel.org/ottoman-empire-golden-gate-jerusalem-map.html
This map shows the old city of Jerusalem during the Ottoman Era. Sulieman the Magnificent rebuilt the walls and created six new gates to fortify the holy city.
http://www.christians-standing-with-israel.org/ottoman-empire-golden-gate-jerusalem-map.html

Conclusion

The development of a community depends on the fulfillment of the basic needs of the people residing there. As the scale of the community increases, there seems to be an increase in the capabilities of the population. Citizens of Jerusalem differ from the occupants of the Grande Hotel Beira and the City of the Dead, because although these informal communities mimic the micro aspects of a developed city, the limited space does not provide enough resources for the people to properly develop and expand. It is visible through the various scales, that a community requires all of the basic human needs to be satisfied or easily accessible, in order for the people to increase their chances for better living, and the possibility of social and economic gain.

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