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Reimagining Cairo: AUC Alum, Student Win 3rd Worldwide in 2022 Berkeley Prize Competition for Design Excellence

Devon Murray
May 24, 2022

Mahmoud El Kady ‘21 and Tia Ashraf, anthropology graduating senior, won third place worldwide in the 2022 Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence competition.

This year, participants were asked to incorporate social science research into architecture and to outline the design process for a housing project within a disadvantaged local community.

The team’s essay — “Economic Architectonics: Local Initiatives for Live/Work Housing” — introduces Cairo’s Coptic Christian community of Hay el-Zabaleen (the garbage collectors’ neighborhood), elaborating on the area’s history and the challenges facing inhabitants today. 

“Working on this essay was exciting and invigorating,” El Kady recalled. “It was liberating to write creatively and work toward a goal that I care about.”

Mahmoud El Kady
Mahmoud El Kady


The duo’s proposal constructs a design process that is, above all, inclusive of the residents.

“Powered by the residents themselves, the local initiative will not only provide services to the community but will also facilitate and moderate the design surveys conducted to solicit the resident’s opinions,” the proposal reads.

El Kady, who majored in architectural engineering and minored in theatre and economics, was glad to translate his work into real-life impact.

“Writing this essay with Tia was the perfect opportunity to do firsthand research and to take the readings, discussions, and design projects that shaped me the most beyond the classroom,” El Kady said. “I am grateful to have started a transdisciplinary research project before graduating — which I have wanted to pursue for a long time.”

He is also grateful for his time at AUC, attributing his success to the skills he acquired during his undergraduate studies.

“Being able to ask questions and challenge assumptions are the best tools that AUC gave me,” El Kady added. “Through my work for student government, I was encouraged to be creative, take the initiative and be persistent — all of which are qualities we practiced throughout the writing process.”

A former professor of El Kady praised his “phenomenal” project for her Spring 2021 thesis studio.

“Mahmoud exemplified the best of which AUC's architecture program has to offer — socially conscious, liberal arts-informed, technically sound and ethically responsible design for the communities most in need,” said Magda Mostafa, associate professor of design in AUC’s Department of Architecture.

Reflecting on the prize’s impact on his current and future work, El Kady concluded, “Winning has encouraged me to pursue grassroots urban and architectural development as a long-term goal.”