The construction industry in Cairo has tended to stick to concrete buildings of a similar form and size, says Paul Scott. Now this seems to be changing in interesting ways …

Cairo is an intense city with a population approaching 18 million, an unceasing rush hour and taxi rides to rival any theme park experience. The energy of the city and references to the past cannot fail to ignite the imagination. Commerce is everywhere, which signals an economy less layered with bureaucracy than we are used to in the West.

A lot of the traditional office space used by smaller businesses in the main city has evolved from the conversion of residential space and many of the buildings to date have developed through a planning system that has been based on a maximum floorplate and height. Consequently many buildings look similar in layout and form. This has had a knock-on effect on the design process and limited the opportunities for collaboration between architects and engineers.

However the planning system is changing and moves are being made to consider the total area for a site, which ought to free up the building form to suit a particular project and its aspirations. This of course means that the traditional design process also needs to evolve between the architect and engineer to meet these new challenges.

Meetings always start with an informal exchange before getting down to business, and they rarely rush to conclusions - long and detailed discussions often continue late into the evening

Adams Kara Taylor has been working in Cairo since its involvement in the Smart Village development on the Western side of Cairo in 2007. More recently we have been working on the Stone Towers project, which is a 1 million m2 commercial development near New Cairo; the design is by Zaha Hadid Architects.

Stone Towers delivers a form, scale and flexibility of space that has not been seen previously, and shares many of the benefits of a modern commercial office design but adapted to Cairo’s environment and its regional construction industry.

For us as a structural engineer the area also brings different challenges and opportunities - in terms, for example, of seismic design. In addition to working with the traditional design codes for Cairo we were able to draw on our experience and the latest developments of Eurocodes to develop the design of new complex forms.

Construction in the area is predominantly insitu reinforced concrete using basic formwork systems, which result in small components and a great deal of propping. This is, of course, relatively slow. However the scale of the Stone Towers project compares favourably with more modern formwork systems and construction techniques, thanks in part to on site preparation and prefabrication. In comparison, large-scale steel frames are still relatively unusual in Cairo, although it is well advanced in the production of large offshore structures and components - a resource that we intend to draw on for the project.

Egyptians are by nature warm and friendly people and meetings always start with an informal exchange before getting down to business. Meetings rarely seem to rush to conclusions - long and detailed discussions often continue late into the evening.

There is a strong desire to link the construction industry with academia and many senior members of practices have a teaching or research post. As a result there is a lot of interest to collaborate with us as an overseas consultant and a willingness to learn and develop.

As for us, we gain through our experiences in working in new environments with different challenges, taking advantage of the opportunities to work with new materials and manufacturing techniques in this part of the world and further east. In fact it is only a matter of time before the pace of development and quality in some of the prefabrication work from the Far East finds its way into Europe.

It feels good to be involved in such a thriving world city that has always had a strong sense of adventure.

Paul Scott is director of Adams Kara Taylor. Would you like to write us a letter from your neck of the woods? Send it to us at