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Randa Shaath

Under the Same Sky: Rooftops of Cairo, 2002/2003. Photo series.

Cairo rooftops no longer resemble the description in the Naguib Mahfouz novel, “Palace Walk”, set in the early 1900’s. Back then, houses were designed and built to accommodate one extended family; rooftops were an area of privacy. High-rise buildings of reinforced concrete first appeared in the 1920’s. Day-use laundry and service rooms for individual apartments were built on the roof, but no one usually lived there except the concierge. Nationalization of private property started in the 1960’s and waves of immigrants from the Nile Delta and Upper Egypt moved to Cairo hoping for a better life. Relatives joined their extended families living on the rooftops where rents were low and a new generation of rooftops dwellers grew. Today, rooftop dwellers have little privacy as they share the bathrooms and the public areas. The rooftop has become a new kind of community. The people who live on the rooftops are different from the people who live in the buildings themselves; neither the residents nor the pedestrians on the street below have any idea what goes on above them. This unique phenomenon is one extra detail in the complexities of a city of 17 million people.

* 1963, Philadelphia, lives and works in Cairo