Course MD901 Summer 2010

Mashrabya Intervention

Aicha Mansour? | Hadeel El.Raie?

Keywords: Darb Al-Ahmar, Non-Place, Zar, Mashrabya, Gender Domination, Public & Private spaces, Metaphysical Concepts

The Effect of Publicly provoking Metaphysical Concepts on Darb`s Beliefs through Media


We are mainly interested and always tend to focus on human behavior in public spaces, basing on cultural, Social, Gender, Religious and Psychological aspects. Our observations were mainly concentrated on how people behave in their own spaces and how spaces are created as a result of users behavior. If we can apply the term "Non - Place" to the Darb Al-Ahmar structure it would be very obvious walking down any street; where public and private places are melting into significant spaces.


This Paper is describing the process and results of one of the course “Site specific Intervention” projects with the title “The Mashrabya”. The course aim was to design and experiment the impact of Site-specific Media Interventions in the Al-Darb Al-Ahmar area, upon using interactive technology.

The project was based on an experimental approach; tended to observe the community’s behavior towards the culture’s Metaphysical Concepts, upon changing their familiar context and challenging the community’s social structure:Public and private structures and The Authority levels based on Gender Domination. The Project attempted to answer: What is the Effect of Publicly provoking Metaphysical Concepts on Al-Darb Al-Ahmar’s Authority through Media?


These terminologies are solely linked to this paper:

. “Mashrabya”: It is an Arabic term given to a traditional and unique kind of wood window, it is used in Arabic traditional architecture until today. Mainly related to women, since they were not allowed to reveal their identity; the Mashrabya was created for them to watch what is happening in the streets from inside the buildings without being seen. Another relation was cooling water, people used to put water behind it; as from its geometric design it diffused the sun rays and focus air.

- Connotation: It is the face of the installation, where sound that has a metaphysical connotation would be played behind it.

. “Ping Pong effect”: It is not linked to its technical meaning, in this paper it’s when sound is recorded and played back with a delay.

. “Al-Darb Al-Ahmar”: translation in English is “The Red District.”

. “Metaphysical Concept”: Ideas and concepts that some cultures believe in discreetly such as magic, Djin, evil spirit and communication with the super natural.

. “Non-Place”: It’s the transition sphere between public places extending to private places and vice versa.

.“Super Natural”: Represented as evil power such as Djin or spirits.


“Site Specific Media Intervention” is a pre-master course project provided in the Media Faculty of the German University in Cairo, in cooperation with Aga Khan Development Network. The course duration was divided into two consecutive semesters. The aim was to design and experiment the impact of Site-specific Media Interventions in the Al-Darb Al-Ahmar area, upon using interactive technology. The objectives were to gain knowledge in analyzing sites, spatial design, interactive design and usability. The outcome of this project was mainly to observe “ How people act, react and interact with/on the intervention and how it affects their "perception in action" (P. Dourish)”. Thus the results, impact and usage would then be documented, and discussed thoroughly. 1 Reference 1:

This text is describing the process and results of one of the course projects titled “ The Mashrabya ”. This project was initially being lead by the researchers’ interests and tendency to focus on human behavior in spaces; based on Cultural, Social, Gender, Religious and Psychological aspects. The observations were mainly in the street, concentrated on how people behave in their own spaces and how spaces are created as a result of users’ behavior. If the term "Non - Place" is applied to Al-Darb Al-Ahmar structure, it would be very relevant and obvious walking down any street; where public and private places are melting into significant spaces.

This project was approached experimentally rather than trying to increase awareness or change the community's social or cultural beliefs and patterns. Nevertheless, after observing the streets of that district, the project's aim was influenced and related to the community's beliefs, particularly their Metaphysical beliefs. Based on an experimental approach, this project tends to observe the community's behavior towards the Metaphysical Concepts upon changing their familiar context and challenging the community's social structure: Public & Private structures and Authority levels based on Gender Domination . This approach can be recapitulated into the project’s research question: "What is the Effect of Publicly provoking Metaphysical Concepts on Al-Darb A- Ahmar`s Authority through Media ?"

Text Structure:

This text will start with background information on the specific site “Al-Darb Al-Ahmar” and the chosen metaphysical concept “The Zar”. Furthermore, it will unfold the project's process and logic, in details of modifications and adaptations; from building the concept to the creation of the media installation. The Process is divided into five phases, followed by obtained results and discussions.

Background Information

Al-Darb Al-Ahmar:

Al-Darb Al-Ahmar is in the heart of many significant historic and touristic places in Cairo, it is located in the south of Al-Azhar mosque and the popular touristic Bazaar Khan al-Khalili, and between the Fatimid city, the Mamluk cemeteries and Mohamed Ali’s Citadel.

AL-Darb Al-Ahmar can be translated to English as “ The Red District”, many narratives were told upon answering why is it referred to as “Red”. The most familiar are three narratives, the first one suggests that early in the days of Mohamed Ali, he wanted to eliminate the Mamluks - whom inhabited Cairo at that time - so he arranged a grand dinner evening in his citadel and invited the Mamluk’s elite and leaders, when everybody arrived in the evening, he ordered his soldiers to kill them all, so their blood shredded down to this district and this was one of the biggest MassacreS Cairo experienced in its history. The other mentions that when the Fatimid Empire occupied Cairo, they gave this district to the Romans to live there and since the Romans were referred to as “ The Red Headed People “, so was the place.. Another narrative proposed that a long time ago, in this area there was a well-known manufacturer that used to produce red-dyed towel, and the dye often covered the streets of this district. Until today, the name remains a legend for the citizens and researchers.

This district has a significant importance from the existence of 65 registered monuments and several 1000 historic buildings. Furthermore, its importance has increased upon the completion of the Azhar street tunnel and the development of new parking spaces and commercial facilities on the ‘Urban Plaza’ site, the Azhar Park on top of the Darassa Hills and flourished with artisans and small enterprises. On the other hand, this district is suffering from the very poor conditions of the historical buildings, insufficient infrastructure, non-existence of essential community services and facilities, poverty, low family incomes “equivalent of less than one US dollar per day” and lack of private sector investments.


The Zar is a form of spiritual custom that is found throughout northern Africa and the Middle East. The purpose of the Zar ceremony is to cure mental illness through contact with the possessing spirits which cause problems. However, it is considered to be the last resort which is supposed to have powerful therapeutic effect for several kinds of illnesses. It is a community healing ritual including music, song, and dance that is practiced in closed private venues. The practice in itself is both dominated by women and performed mainly for women. Through a belief in spirit possession, women create a social network that acts as a safety net for them. The ceremonies allow the practitioners to forget their everyday lives and travel to the spirit world for a much needed break. However, Zar is technically prohibited by Islam as a pagan practice.

The Zar rituals are women centered. The knowledge of Zar spirits, possession symptoms, reconciliation and sacrificial rites are women's responsibilities. Most of the participants and devotees are women. In Egypt as well, the Zar is both dominated by women and performed mainly for women.Gender identities in Zar are performed and represented in very interesting ways. Spirits are predominantly male, while the majority of participants are female. One group of spirits is female, while individual spirits are male. Illnesses associated with spirit possession are also regarded as male or female. Although this binary division reflects the daily social reality of the human participants, the expression of gender in Zar does not simply reflect the practices and beliefs of everyday life.

Phase 1: Concept Proposal:

This phase took place along the first semester of the course, it was mainly matching observations with possible conception. The observations were conducted through walking in the district's streets, and starting conversations with the people. Later on researchers conducted many meetings together to deeply analyze the observations, create a concept and demonstrate it through a visual prototype


Different observations reached in Al-Darb Al-Ahmar district were mostly related to the street, as for the researchers: The Street is vitally important, as it is the mirror of the culture. In this district, the street or the unity in the street was more special than any other district in old Cairo, each individual role is defined within the street and each place within the street is defined according to the roles. Walking down the street, it is significant to observe the unity of the social structure, where everything and everyone are connected to each other; Ahmed Abd-Allah, is one of the citizens, a carpenter, he mentioned “We are like a village, if someone is walking at the beginning of the street, the resident at the end of the street would know One can find in such a small area a very sophisticated architecture, social, cultural and even political structures and systems.

The public spaces withing the district's streets were mainly divided into two levels: horizontal and vertical, where they differ by their activities and gender domination. These levels are always in a state of interaction with each other in a form of extensions from one to another. The extensions from private to public are presented in the balconies, coffee shops; while the extensions from public to private is presented in the houses' entrance. The horizontal level is represented by the street, which is mainly dominated by men and their perpetual motion activities; such as selling, working and sitting at in the coffee shop. On the other hand, the vertical level is represented by the buildings - with its balconies and windows - which is mainly dominated by women and their activities; such as laundry, observing the street and talking to the neighbors. In each level there is a certain authority over upon the other; the authority of the ground level lays on men doing the action and the authority of the vertical level is on women observing the action done.

... Presentation:

In this presentation several thoughts, concepts and suggestions were emerged and discussed.

* Initial Ideas.pdf Δ

... Observations & Impressions:

... Initial Ideas Outcome:

. Athan

. Mashrabya


... Brainstorm Session

. Mashrabya:

.Shadow appearing or disappearing (genii or not)
.Projecting Mashrabya reflected beside real one and projecting different actions behind
.Public Actions (based on sound) behind Mashrabya

. Window: ( When a woman go to the balcony )

.Sound of Motorcycle passes but she can see none

... Possible Sites:

Site1.jpg Δ Site2.jpg Δ Site3.jpg Δ Site4.jpg Δ

Concept Emerging:

These observations outlined the aim of this project, which was to observe the residents’ interaction and reaction if their authorities were manipulated. Increasing the vertical authority using the expected visual perception of the traditional architectural element the Mashrabya; pedestrians walking in the horizontal level unconsciously expect someone observing them behind the Mashrabya.

Later on, after concentrating on in this project’s aim, the Mashrabya usage had a deeper understanding and a dual representation, it represents the district’s Social Structures: Vertical level and Authority, and represented the Community’s Beliefs which was chosen to be the Metaphysical Concepts; as they have two main functions, first they are very controversial topics all around the world, that would likely face publicly disagreement, however not honestly and exactly what an individual would believe in, secondly they would emphasize and demonstrate the effect on the Social Structure of Authority.

The initial concept emerged in this phase, which was manipulating the Vertical Level Authority targeting the ground level by choosing metaphysical concepts existing in Darb Al-Ahmar and make it obvious in the street - Publicizing. The chosen metaphysical concept was the Zarr, as it could be an effective tool due to its orientation and representation as ritual media of healing and communicating with the super natural. It is a practice guided by a female leader, which fits to the observation of vertical levels – dominated by female. As well inspired from the traditional Mashrabya concept, which conveys and represents the barrier between the public and private sphere for female, where behind it rituals, secretes and discrete performances take place. This project was trying to Re-introduce the Mashrabya in a deeper manner as the face of the installation, where sounds that have metaphysical connotations would be played behind it. The installation was best to be preformed in an abandoned house with Mashrabya windows, to raise the audience unexpected and surprising reactions.


The installation would take place at an abandoned house with a Mashrabya window, a sound of Zar music would be playing inside at low volume, audience would hear the sound but if they were to come come closer to the Mashrabya, the sound would stop and would start again as soon as they moved away. are far. Methods: Methods or components of the installations were divided into:

1• Methods of Implementation:

It was considered to interact through different senses with the audience : Mashrabya-Visual Sense, Sound-hearing sense and Incenses-smelling sense. The Sound was divided into a Preface Sound, that would be played at the beginning of the installation for a shorter time, to get the audience into the atmosphere; dogs barking and tumbling sound effects. Then the main sound that is the Zar music which would be played for a longer time. The Incenses will be burning behind the Mashrabya, it would have a significant connotation to the Zarr for the audience.

Installation Technical Components:

In order to sense the audience being close or far thus stopping or playing sound, Motion detection Sensors were needed, placing them at the Mashrabya. Speaker inside the building, and an Electric incense Burner

2• Methods of Outcome Evaluation:
For this experimental approach project, each reaction is important no matter how non obvious it is. Thus we began documenting all reactions with different methods; film documentation of the entire area, through cameras placed in different angels covering the entire space, Spies with recorders, recording and noting what are the audience saying and their reactions in nearby social gathering such as coffee-shops.

. Surveillance + Audio Documentation: . Evokers: Evoking topic if audience didn’t react, or gave attention to the installation . Film Documentation.


In this presentation aims , objectives, methods and supposed out comes were discussed. Also putting in consideration future inquiry, as it would be beneficial to base this intervention on a well scientific background of culture, psychology and different methodologies used before.

... Prototype:

The prototype was an example of the installation appearance and suspected outcomes, to have more space for amendments. It was extremely hard to find an old abandoned building with Mashrabya windows, so a site was chosen for its appropriate architecture condition. However, building was closed and had no chance of entering and trying the installation, so another plan had to be set to help in the visualizing of the installation. The prototype was transferred to be a visual prototype, no equipments or sound were played, only four citizens and Hamza – an Agha khan employer – were instructed on how to react to the window, and sounds were created on the movie on Final Cut Pro software.

... Evaluation and Expected outcomes:

One of the first constraints that was revealed when searching for a house, was the researchers’ identity, as this project has to be as discrete as possible, so not to have any impact on the audience's reactions, .The researchers’ identity had to be masked in that area; as being artists or historians…etc. Secondly, the Zarr topic needed to be thoroughly scientifically researched supporting the concept and reactions. Thirdly, the Darb Al-Ahmar's reactions may vary from being offensive, evoked, no reaction, fearful (depending on place, age and gender) and Rejection to the Zar concept or Performers & Participants or Researchers, thus researchers have to be well prepared on site for any of the suspected outcomes.

Phase 2

Concept Re-developing

In the second phase, more research was conducted on the metaphysical beliefs’ of Al-Darb Al-Ahmar’s community (using the methods in-depth interviews and group discussion) to reassure that the Zar concept would be valid for this installation. Later on, the research inspired the researchers’ concept.

Interview Report

"The Sample"

The questions were asked to fifteen residents from Al-Darb Al-Ahmar in different places (shops, street and coffee shops) and different social levels such as (shop-owners, workers, house wives, students and teachers). The fifteen residents age ranged from 14 to 70 years old, 8 males and 7 females, the researchers were able to conduct five in-depth interviews and two group discussion, each group had three individuals.

In general men were more open, talking about this topic than women, and definitely in-group discussions individuals were more dynamic and relaxed then individual interviews. Two women refused to participate in the discussion completely and one young female refused to talk in the beginning then relaxed in a group, and started to participate.

"The Questions"

The questions asked to Al-Darb Al-Ahmar residents were about their beliefs toward the supernatural and metaphysical concepts. The sample believed in their existence and stated that it is mentioned in the Quran. Few believed that there are people that can communicate and can lead them to posses someone, and others were convinced that the supernatural world has the authority upon people; choosing who to communicate with or to posses.

Getting deeper in the possession of humans, there was no direct answer on “When?”, but mostly in the stories they narrated was at night. They all agreed that the people that may get possessed are: who do believe and fear the gins and spirits, and if someone was too sad, frustrated and depressed; crying and shouting most of the time. Most agreed that genies and spirits cannot help or know the future of people. They added that Djin and spirits possession always occurs where they live, as in toilets, abandoned places more than 40 days.

Moreover, they all stated the common actions in these places that help in possessing or as they said “make the Djin angry so they posses the humans”; these actions included, throwing boiling water or crying in bathrooms, sleeping or being naked in front of mirrors, throwing stones at night in abandoned place, burning things in bathrooms, kicking cats at night. All participants had the same opinion on getting healed is not by practicing Zar or any of these rituals, and they must be done by a religious sheikh, reading Quran.

In this part after discussing the idea of Zar and while the sample narrated stories of women, there was two contradicting beliefs. First, the researchers asked if women were possessed more than men, although the sample didn’t agree, the stories were all about women (sisters, wives and relatives). All the stories had common symptoms of knowing if the women were possessed or not; if she can’t get married or pregnant, shouting and crying excessively, and they talk in manly voice tones, and here evolved the second contradiction, where earlier they didn’t believe in Zar however most of the women talked about the practice of the Zar ritual.


After discussing the metaphysical concepts and seeing the contradiction between what the people there like to believe and actually believe in, the Zar concept still is best to be placed in this installation to meet the aim and objective. Changing in the installation content, the barking of dogs and tumbling sounds to the ping pong effect; where the person can hear what he said delayed and in another pitch.

Concept Overview This mind map shows the process of the concept emerging, observations and semantics.

Phase 3

Concept Realization

In this phase, all aspects and requirements of the installation were focused and clear.

Installation Content: (what)

Mainly, sound was played from behind the Mashrabya. Classified into In-Direct and Direct sounds, they differ in the impressions given to the audience. In-Direct will indicate that something is happening inside the house, however the Direct will indicate that there is something happening inside that refers to him personally.

The In-Direct Interactive Sound - Zarr Atmosphere / Sound – at this point an actual Zarr sound is being used, as any linguistic content that would appear would be familiar to the audience; therefore a visit to a Zarr has to be conducted to record the surrounding music and atmosphere. The Zarr sound will be played all the time, with a deep low frequency and so when a passer is passing by the installation, the sensor will detect him the passer and the Zarr sound will stop.

The Direct Interactive Sound - the ping pong effect – it is simply when a person is passing by, talking, a sound recorder records his sound and plays it back at a different pitch. This idea would be used to magnify what was reached in the survey; that when someone is possessed, they speak in the other sex voice. So as the installation is mainly targeting horizontal level “Men Domination” the sound played back would be manipulated into a woman’s voice. When passer is passing by the installation, the sensor will detect him the passer and records what is being said, then as when the passer reaches almost the end of the installation it starts playing with the ping pong effect.

Evaluation of Installation's Audience reaction: (why?)

When metaphysical concepts are provoked publicly, the reactions of the society can then be divided into: the Instinctive Level - On Spot -; observing the change in the relation between the people’s Perception & Space (context). This will be documented on sight with cameras - in different angles - and sound recorders. Along with the Reflexive Level - After Effect -; triggering the social gatherings to screen their opinions, through spies with sound recorders or direct interviews with participants that passed through the installation

Installation's Site: (where?)

The site that would be chosen is based on five requirements: First, a vacant or a collapsed building with only exterior walls. Second is the availability of accessing it from at least two entries. Third, it should be placed in a sub-street with a medium number of pedestrians. Fourth, no near left or right streets (Sub-streets) – as the participant have to be around after experiencing the installation for some minutes for documenting reactions. Fifth, it has to be close to a social gathering area (coffee-shop).

Methods of Implementation: (how?)

1. Mahrabya: A wooden Mashrabya will be placed on the chosen building's window 4-7 days before the installation, to make people get used to it.

2. Technical of In-Direct Sound - Zar Music . motion-detecting sensors with fixed range – 1 to 1.5 meter . . Arduino Audio Board – maybe wireless . Laptop . Speakers –Mono or Stereo

3. Technical of Direct sound - Ping Pong Effect: . Sensor (mic recorder) . Same arduino audio board, laptop and speakers

4. Technical for documenting: . Voice recorder . Cameras in different angles

5.Camouflage: For precise and convenient outputs of this discrete project, researchers identity had to be camouflaged, and disguised under the profession of architects concerned with restoring urban buildings.

Phase 4

Concept Visualization

1. Location

In the same logic of phase 3, all aspects were taken in action; in this phase things were clearly decided on and in action.

1. Installation Site

We were successful in finding a site that is matching our constraints mentioned earlier. The chosen site is located in Forn El-Sarref Corner, in Darb Shaghlan Street. The owner A’m Samir is a resident in the same area, in a tall new building in the same street.

... Site Description

Perceiving the site from outside the building, it is a corner building, with Mashyrabya and furniture workshops in-front, Standing workshops on the side and two coffee shops one in front of the building and another further on the way to the building before any right or left sub streets. The regular audience – people available there most of the time – are, the owner of the House A’m Samir, neighbors in tall buildings surrounding the specified site; since it has no ceiling they have a clear vision on it and owners of the workshops opposite to the site: Owner 1 Reda, of mosaic workshop and small showroom beside it, owner 2 of car’s tire workshop and owner 3 of the coffee shop. The kinds of passers in the street are mainly pedestrians, cars and Motorcycles.

Perceiving the site from inside the building, the building door is from the front left side locked by the owner. The front side is divided into two rooms with no inside doors, first with 1 window and the second with 2 windows and 1 from the side. The building is filled with garbage and the owner raises goats there. Also there is a carpenter who works in the hall, but not regular.

... Workspace (where to sit)

The working space was discussed thoroughly choosing to work inside or outside the building. Each has its positives and negatives, but at the end the decision had to prioritize the discreet of the project. The positives of working inside the building where, securing of the equipments and researchers, cables of speakers are hidden from passers (target), considering a low budget project rather than using wireless cameras, 2 wired cameras would have been sufficient – one documenting researchers working and the other on the Mashrabya documenting the instinctive level reaction. On the other hand, the negatives were that the site has been filled with garbage, not giving us the privilege to work inside - However can it get cleaned?, if the building door was not locked, anyone can get in and in case that it was locked the owner could get in and people would know who were behind these sounds. Working outside the building maybe in a coffee shop nearby was suitable for some points as for the clean-less of space, if anybody enters the building they would find nothing, researchers can instantly see reaction of people, and can get in the mood they are creating and can illuminate the surveillance camera recording who is passing. However, putting in consideration the clashing of us and our spies - recording the reflexive level reactions – was going to intervene in the outcomes, the cable of speakers can be detected, as until this phase no wireless speakers were available for rent, and considering again the low budget, the usage of multiple wireless cameras was not convenient to the researchers. After revealing all possible situations, it was more convenient to work inside the building, to keep the intervention discreet and considering low budget project.

... Constraints and Treatments On site: The constraints on the site had to be amended in this early stage for the successfulness of this project, the following are the constraints and their treatments:

• No Source of Electricity: . Residents there offered to extend a wire from the public electricity source behind the building. “Illegally”

• Define workspace: . Working inside . In the second room, sitting between the two windows . The Mashrabya will be placed on the side window . Covering ceiling with plastic tent . Rather than cleaning place, spread carton on the floor

• Manage security of site: . A craftsman recently is working inside the site, it would be difficult to keep front door locked, but maybe the inside room can be blocked

• Privacy inside Building: . Placing carton behind windows, leaving gaps in between, leaving audience with an unclear vision inside the building

• Light condition at night: . Situation is fair; trials with the defined cameras should be conducted.

2. Methods of Implementation


As mentioned earlier, mainly two sounds would be played in the installation controlled by the researchers using MAX5 software. The material of the In-Direct sound –Zar music- was recorded in Egypt Center of Culture and Arts –MAKAN, where a band called “Mazaher” playing Zar music. However they were not aware of the recordings as researchers did not want to influence their actions after putting in to consideration that it was allowed to take pictures and recording videos inside. The direct sound – Ping Pong effect was designed on the Max software, recording input from a microphone and played again delayed, the delayed time was elastic designed, as if people were not moving fast to the other window. For more info about “Mazaher Band” visit:

MAX5 Patch evolution:

. Zar Playback Patch

MashrabyaMaxZar1.jpg Δ MashrabyaMaxZar2.jpg Δ

. Ping Pong Effect Patch MashrabyaMaxPing2.jpg Δ MashrabyaMaxPing1.jpg Δ

. Final Max5 Patch

.. Hardware

After considering all earlier aspects of the concept, sensors would be considered too electronic and would not fit with the spatial experience the researchers wanted to convey. Thus, live playing of the sounds would be more related to the concept adding also live recording as researchers can choose whom to record, by surveillance camera recording and playing live on the laptop.

... Equipments:

Final equipment were 2 web cameras, one at the side window – where Mashrabya is installed -, another at the front of the building. A HD video camera and tripod placed inside the chosen room recording researchers working. A microphone placed on the front window with the webcam, recording sounds and inputting them to a laptop with MAX software, a speaker 2.1 acting as the output for MAX playing Zar music and Ping pong effect.

... Packaging of Equipments:

All equipments will be wrapped in crafts paper, as they would be camouflaged with the cartoon on the windows and the floor. Thus, if someone is passing by through the windows would not notice the web cameras and microphone as the crafts paper has the same color of the cartoon used, also someone entering the room inside - beside that it is dark-will not notice the speakers, camera and tripod.

Phase 5

Installation in Action

The fifth phase will be describing the preparation of the installation and the installation day, more over this phase will also be describing the reaction of the people in each phase.

The installation day was on Sunday the 23rd of January, 2011. The researchers chose a Sunday as it is the workshops day off, which will lead to a greater variety of people; different ages and gender passing in the area.

Installing Mashrabya

7 days earlier, the installation started with the making of the Mashrabya by a carpenter in Al Moa’ez street (located in a nearby district). The Researchers chose to manufacture it outside Al-Darb Al-Ahmar to decrease any discussions about their work on the building. With the help of the carpenter, the researchers installed the Mashrabya seven days before the installation, so that people walking down the street get familiar with the changes.

After installing it, the reaction of the people was stimulated very quickly, this proves the observations the researchers previously had on the strong bond this community shares.

Some people commented:

Are they renewing the building? هما حيجدوا المبنا؟؟

What are they doing? هما بيعملوا ايه؟

Come do our house! ما تيجوا تعملوا بيتنا!

Are they working with Aga Khan? هما دول تبع آغى خان؟

What is going to happen here? هو ايه اللي حيحصل هنا؟

How can girls be Architectures? إزاي بنات مهندسات؟

3 days later the researchers passed by the house to make sure that the Mashrabya was still there, nobody removed or stole it. While passing there, a couple of residents noticed them, and referred to them as the Architectures.

Preparing Site

On the Installation Day, the researchers arrived no the site at 4:00 pm to prepare the installation. They started by covering the three windows with carton, then covering the sealing of the building with the blue waterproof plastic (a known material used by Architectures). Finally they spread cartons on the floor to have a clean space to work and sit on. Around 6:00 pm, the researchers left the building, and were asked by the owner when will they come back, they answered quickly after two days or so.

While setting up the site, more comments were heard:

A child explaining to his friends: No Stupid! They will shoot a Cinema movie. طفل يشرح لاصدقائه: يا غبي! دول حيصور وافلم.

Oh! They are going to being the renewing!? اي ده! دول خلاص حيبتدوا يرمموا؟

What they are doing is not right, they have to clean the place before they work. ما ينفعش اللي بيعملوه ده, لازم ينضفوا المكان قبل ما يشتغلوا.

It’s not proper that two girls are popping in and out of this place. ما ينفعش بنتين يقعدوا رايحين جايين على المكان

Why are they covering the ceiling? هما بيغطوا السقف ليه؟

Team Meeting

On the Installation Day, after the researchers left the site, they went to meet with the installation’s spies. The spies were, Hamza Eraqi and his friend Mohamed Ali Abou Taleb, employees from Agha Khan. They were introduced briefly to the project and their role on documenting the peoples’ reaction, walking around in the street or staying in the nearby coffee shop. Also they were instructed that if people didn’t comment, they were to evoke the subject in a way or another.

Installing Equipment

On the Installation Day , At 8:30 pm the researchers were back to the site. Knowing they had to keep a low profile, they entered from the other side of the street, concealing their equipment inside two ordinary hand bags. Arriving at the door of the building, it was found to be locked, thankfully a craftsman from a nearby shop offered his help and unlocked the door for them. In addition to that, fortunately there was a celebration outside on the street, which gave the research team the perfect chance to move freely around the site without fear of being accidentally heard or noticed.

Action Line

. Set up laptop.

. Set up web cameras.

. Set up the Microphone.

. During the process, the electricity power suddenly went off, researcher who went to check found it to be a result of the goats pulling the plug out of the socket.

. Set up the speakers.

. Set up the Max software on one of the lap tops.

. Connecting the web camera to the other computer.

. Playing the Zar sound at low volume.

. The power went down again, but this time researchers noticed someone inside, it was the owner, but he did not notice the researchers.

. The researchers paused and got another camera, which faced the door to record reactions if they were found, but they went unnoticed.

. They went back to work.

. The Zar music started again.

. Researchers heard a woman from the upper balconies asking a guy in the street to see if someone is inside the building because they saw light reflections and shadows.

. The Researchers packed up their equipment.

. At the right time two guys entered the building and asked if anybody was in there.

. Researchers had to conceal their identity by saying that one of them has accidentally dropped their cell phone and were looking for it.

. Researchers made their way out quickly.

Results & Discussion

Contrary to the previous observation, the Vertical authority (the woman in the balcony) in that situation was not only liable to the mere act of observing the actions, but, by communicating with the Horizontal authorities (the two men on the street that went inside the building) were able to interfere and affect actions happening beyond her level of authorities.

During the installation process, researchers were able to convert the site from a public place to a private one by maintaining means of prohibiting visual contact with the inside content of the place through sealing the windows, covering the ceiling and placing private belongings, the Mashrabya and equipment there.

After the installation was obstructed by their authoritarian intervention, researchers had to remove their belongings from the site, yet the changes made to it remained intact, leaving a public site with the ceiling cover they made and the windows sealed and modified, leading to the conversion of the site to be a “Non-Place”, by having characteristics of both a public and a private space simultaneously.

This conclusion changes the understanding of “Non-Place” that was referred to in the introduction of this project; as the extensions from public to private and vice versa.

Putting into consideration the strong coherence of Al-Darb Al-Ahmar community and the lack of versatility in the nature of the inhabitants, researchers were always regarded as “strangers”, disregarding the fact that they were introduced as architectural engineers who are there to renovate the historical buildings and creating better conditions. Nevertheless, they were always being monitored and regarded as invaders to their private space, concluding that what the community there considers to be “public” among them is a “private” space when it comes to “strangers” and should not be trespassed.

Future Inquires

After the discussions, reviewing and experiencing all the different aspects of this project, it would be more opportune working on social structures, metaphysical concepts, and anthropology, to consider the outer shell of the observation and try to tackle them in different ways before any deeper shells.

In this case, authority was to be studied deeper, trying different methods then focusing on the deeper layer of the people’s beliefs. In other words, upon studding the people’s reaction, the researchers need to differentiate and realize the diverse rate between what is a “reaction instinct” and “intellectual instinct”. This is where “reaction instinct” is the people’s reaction without thinking; based on expressive domination, while the “intellectual instinct” is when they start to think first; based on mind domination. This was clear in the output when figuring out that their authority was rather “reaction instinct”, and should be provoked differently as tackling the instinct itself.


Fore more info about the course visit:

For more info about “Mazaher Band” visit:

Siravo, Francesco. “Urban Rehabilitation and Community Development in al-Darb al-Ahmar”. 2004. Cairo: Revitalising a Historic Metropolis. (Stefano Bianca and Philip Jodidio, eds.) Turin: Umberto Allemandi & C. for Aga Khan Trust for Culture, 177-193., April, 2010, April, 2010, April, 2010, April, 2010, April, 2010

April, 2010

April, 2010 C8E6-E1CAE6C9-f255/E1C7%D1-65213.html,, October, 2010, October, 2010, October, 2010., October, 2010.

El-Aswad, El-Sayed, Relegion and Folk Cosmology, Praeger, 2002, 125 – 123.

Baddy, Janice, A reader in the Anthropology of religion, Blackwell Publishing LTD,2002, 398 – 404.

Mansour, Fatma, Women, identity and gener symbolism in Zar rituals in Egypt, 2010

Augé, Marc, Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Super modernity, 1995, December, 2010

February, 2011