Five decades of rent control, nationalization, mismanagement and neglect have taken their toll. The built environment has deteriorated due to lack of maintenance, misuse and abuse of the public and private space. With few exceptions, the elite institutions started moving to newer quarters, high-end retail and services followed their affluent clients to new suburban districts and new hotels eclipsed the old neglected ones.
Absentee expatriate owners and multiple heirs lost interest in assets from which no income was derived. The insurance companies that took over ownership and management of nationalized assets were only concerned with short-term income and inflicted severe damage through conversions, subdivisions and alterations of the buildings and their surroundings, including the appropriation of private passageways and encroachments on public rights of ways. The old pedestrian circulation network was largely obliterated by these successive encroachments. The remnants are often partially blocked by the encroachment of incongruous uses, licensed and unlicensed.
Two professional generations of architects and builders blighted the Cairene landscape, first with “modern” buildings reflecting a misunderstanding of the very concept of modernity and then with neo-Islamic designs reflecting an equally distorted view of a magnificent architectural heritage. Luckily, Khedivial Cairo escaped much of this devastation with minor injuries. The rent controls and the complex legal issues encumbering the buildings deterred attempts at redevelopment.
Starting in the 1980’s, the slow dismantling of the controls that stifled the economy allowed for the emergence of a dynamic private sector.
Young entrepreneurs started businesses. Astute investors and engineers looked beyond contracting to real estate development. Among the new generation of architects there was a greater sensitivity to the qualities of the historic architectural and urbanistic heritage. A few also stood out by their understanding of the value of the 19th and early 20th century urban fabric.