Lost in translation.

Setting up a dialogue between (non)expert builders from an urban comparative perspective in Cairo and Brussels

Excerpt from the Egyptian cartoon Tanāblat al-ṣubiān (Higazi 2020, 120–21).

This project interrogates amateur building practices at the domestic scale in the light of good practices promoted in architectural discourse and institutions. This was the subject of Dalila Ghodbane's doctoral thesis on the city of Cairo ( A number of observations made in Brussels suggest the relevance of establishing a link with the results of this thesis. The transition from sustainable discourse to practice – professional and non-professional - requires deciphering the language of each actor, at the risk of getting lost in translation.

How to apply the knowledge produced from Cairo’s cases in Brussels? To what extent can concepts like informal urbanism, vernacular construction travel? Challenging the so-called great divide between the Global South and the North, this project aims to bring a fresh look at urban renewal as it happens at the small scale in Brussels, which remains too rarely tackled in the urban research.

‘Lost in translation’ is a research project that shares the kitchen of an ethno-architectural inquiry in Brussels. The project is innovative both in its content and its form, since it consists in three podcasts in which we will hear the voices of those who build and maintain their homes in the margins of the professional practice both in Cairo and in Brussels. With a visual support, the audience and the researcher both explore and experiment the comparison between the inhabitants of both cities, and their allies in their refurbishment projects, like builders, associations, and architects. The outcome is an immersive and reflexive experience that offers a fresh insight into construction as it takes place in urban homes today.


[translation of the last balloon in the cartoon : « You are all laughing at Saber [the man in blue] because he wants to build his house in red bricks!? Do you mean that you enjoy the mud life that you are living? [You spend] all day cultivating in the mud, and all night sleeping in houses made of mud. And even when you want to stay up a bit late, you sit on benches made of mud!!! »]