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24 March 2015 / marouhhussein

The DNA of Cities

The following is an excerpt from Abdelbaseer Mohamed’s “The DNA of Cities” article. Follow the link below the text for the full article.



The built environment is a product of socio-economic, cultural, and political forces. Every urban system has its own ‘genetic code’, expressed in architectural and spatial forms that reflect a community’s values and identity. Each community chooses certain physical characteristics, producing the unique character of its city. This ‘communal eye’ exemplifies the city’s architectural legacy and gives a sense of place.

For example, in old Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, unique buildings decorated with geometric patterns create a distinctive visual character unique to the city (pictured above). Another example is Egypt’s Nubian village (below) where the building materials and colors are unique and reflect the vernacular architecture of the region.

However, current architectural practices, in almost every city in the world, do not respect the past identities and traditions of our cities. Most projects bear little or no relationship to neither the surrounding urban context nor the city’s genetic code. Architects only follow international architectural movements such as “Modern architecture”, “Postmodernism”, “High-Technology”, and “Deconstructionism”. The result is a fragmented and discontinuous dialogue among buildings, destroying a city’s communal memory.

Street art and graffiti have been filling this gap, explaining the conflict between the traditional culture and contemporary sociopolitical issues of cities. Street artists are repurposing city walls to highlight heritage, history and identity and, in some cases, to humanize this struggle.

Click here for the full article:

Abdelbaseer A. Mohamed is an architect and urban planner. Mohamed received his MSc in Urban planning and Design from Ain Shams University, where he is currently working on his PhD. He is mainly interested in studying the influence of urban space on society adopting a configurational approach, space syntax. Mohamed is currently a Carnegie fellow at American University in Washington.

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