Logics of Vacant Homes: Trajectories of accumulation, regulation and improvisation in Cairo
PhD in Architecture
In 2017, 30% of housing in Cairo was vacant. High levels of vacancy underscore paradoxical anomalies of housing production worldwide, especially when seen alongside rising unaffordability and restricted access for the majorities. Public discourse and academic scholarship typically depict vacant homes as excess fixated capital by an affluent upper class. But this blanket narrative overlooks noneconomic logics of treasuring, manipulating, and controlling homes, generating seemingly illogical modes of vacancy in both affluent and marginal geographies. Drawing on a year-long qualitative fieldwork on four patterns of vacant housing in Cairo that refute straightforward speculation, this research theorizes variegated modes of irrational vacancy. It conceptualizes vacant landscapes of suburban family homes, extra-legal improvised towers, failed cooperative projects and standardized social housing not as financial investments, but also as placeholders of aspirational stability, the product of accidental gridlocks or oppressive delays, and the manifestation of erratic tactics. Moving beyond the lens of rational economics, this research lies on several multi-disciplinary intersections that overlay socio-political entanglements with affective meanings. Located in the contextual specificity of Cairo, it makes three contributions to critical urban studies. First, it examines alternative registers of value to expose understudied but influential moral and legal urban economies. Second, it demonstrates the role of temporalities in dictating the rhythm of spatial conditions. Third, it shows how abstract imaginations haunt vacant landscapes and drive or foreclose possibilities of their construction and occupation. In overview, the construction, occupation and perception of housing become a proxy to study modes of empowerment and oppression (Madden and Marcuse 2016).