Hany is introducing low-cost environmentally friendly housing for squatter low- income areas in Egypt that will decrease the cost of housing by 30% since materials are local and will not need to be imported and transported. His idea is three-pronged. Hany’s idea aims to reduce dependency on expensive imported mass-produced and environmentally unfriendly building materials, by participating with local communities particularly in low-income areas, to test and improve the properties of locally available materials using simple non-polluting production and construction methods. Through scientific experimentation with local ingredients used by the Ancient Egyptians as well as treating polluting materials such as rice straw, cement dust, and iron-fabric left-overs, he has been able to create low-cost government-certified environmentally friendly construction material. He also uses building techniques that are easier, faster, replicable, and more affordable than the techniques currently used to build homes in squatter areas. Finally, he transfers his know-how of the material and the building techniques to youth in the communities where he works, adopting a participatory approach and a mutual-learning process that incorporates local construction knowledge and styles.

A fast growing population coupled with the plight of rural migrants to cities over the past four decades, in search of job opportunities, facilities and amenities, has resulted in an unhealthily rapid process of urbanization. The result has been a tremendous housing shortage in Egypt and a huge hike in the cost of housing. In the mid-1970s, in response to the tremendous increase in demand for land for housing, the price of land increased 100 to 200 times and the cost of construction increased 20 to 40 times. This meant that building low-cost housing became very difficult and rents increased to the point that they exceeded the capabilities of the poorer strata in society. At the same time, as part of the neo-liberal development strategy adopted by the Egyptian government at the beginning of the 1970s, there have been significant cutbacks in government-financed housing and the private-sector has concentrated on more high-end luxury developments as opposed to affordable housing. The accumulated effect of the above developments has resulted in the rapid proliferation of squatter and informal settlements—communities in which the housing, in most cases, does not have potable water or sewage facilities in addition to basic amenities such as garbage collection, health and security facilities. The lack of services in these areas is the result of law 25/1992 which prohibits the provision of government services to illegal areas. The pattern urbanization has taken is therefore exacerbating the environment as well as the health and wellbeing of Egyptians.

A 1995 World Bank report on the Construction Industry in Egypt, states that 80 percent of housing built between 1966 and 1986 was shanty housing. The annual Al-Ahram Strategic Report for 1995 indicates that 84 percent of total construction in the 1980s was informal housing. Today, according to the Institute for Liberty and Democracy, 92 percent of real estate land in the urban sector and 87 percent in the rural sector in Egypt are informal—over 70 percent of which belong to the poor. The value of extralegal urban and rural estate amounts to US$241.4 billion. While the official 1996 census states that 7 million people live in informal areas, the Egyptian Center for Housing Rights, estimates that the population living in these areas is as high as 11, 561, 000. Out of a population of 70 million Egyptians, this figure indicates that more than 16% of the Egyptian population live in informal areas. The problem has become so acute that in Cairo, people who cannot afford housing are living in cemeteries. Unofficial estimates place the number living in cemeteries at anywhere between half a million and a million.

Shanties and informal areas are not only on the outskirts of cities, but also in the very heart of cities. They vary in quality from houses made of adobe and cement to shacks made out of sheets of metal, cloth, and even of cardboard. According to Miniawy, mass-produced building materials such as red bricks, and reinforced concrete are not only polluting but they tie the cost of shelter to unreliable international markets. At the same time, local building materials used by indigenous populations in rural and desert environments are often not resistant to harsh environmental conditions such as earthquakes and heavy rains. Miniawy’s work suggests that it is possible to develop building materials tailored for each local environment through a scientific process of testing and designing building materials.

The government has responded to the increasing phenomenon of informal housing by either “upgrading” them or by forcibly evicting their residents and demolishing them to accommodate new developments and/or high-income housing. The latter approach is the most common as upgrading is extremely expensive. The displaced residents of the informal area either resettled to far-away housing compounds, away from their workplaces or given compensation to seek other housing arrangements. However, in many cases the eviction has been carried out without compensation or appropriate alternative shelter. There have been violent confrontations with the police forces responsible for enforcing the evictions. Hany’s idea will allow local inhabitants of squatter areas to “upgrade” their homes in a cheaper, more efficient, environmentally-friendly, and participatory manner. From his example, the government can opt for “upgrading” as opposed to forced evictions and demolition as a solution to the increasing phenomenon of squatter areas

Hany’s idea of producing low-cost housing for the poor consists of three components: testing local soil for potential building materials, processing polluting materials and treating them to create new building materials, and training and transferring the know-how to youth, through involving the communities he works with. It was in 1977 in Algeria that he first started testing his ideas. While working in the Algerian desert, Hany Miniawy found that “modern” building materials had to be bought from locations as far as 500 km away. The local population had their own methods of construction, but their homes were often not resistant to earthquakes and heavy rains. It was there that the idea to enhance the construction properties of local materials and to train local populations to adopt this technique, arose. He built two settlements in Algeria, including the villages of Ma’ader (Bou Sa’ada) consisting of 120 units in 1977 and Feliach (Biskra), consisting of 180 units in 1978. These have grown to 8,000 and 14,000 homes respectively, as locally trained people have expanded on the original settlements. He built the homes in the style of the traditional Kasbah, with small alley-ways for women, central courtyard, and double-walls and ceilings to make indoors significantly cooler than the outside temperatures that often reached 50 degrees Celsius. His technique has disseminated all over Algeria now.
Hany’s goal was to produce low-cost housing that is appropriate to local conditions. He adopted a methodology that depended on using environment-friendly local material, and involving community members to ensure ownership, continuity, and the spread of the know-how. However, in a country where importing cement and building material is carried out by the state and powerful business people, it was challenging to get through the state’s bureaucracy in order to get the local material certified and approved. In order to convince the state, test the material, and build a body of supporters, Hany applied his idea, building techniques, and community involvement strategy in a number of projects in Cairo, upper Egypt, and the desert. To achieve a national impact, Hany has created a number of very successful pilots and demonstration models. In El-Nassereya in Aswan, Upper Egypt, he built a settlement for the builders of the Aswan Dam, with the participation of local inhabitants. Beginning in 1992, as part of a university project, he worked with teachers and students in Azhar University (1992), Cairo University (College of Urban Construction and Planning in 1995, College of Engineering in 1998-2004) and Menoufeya University (?) to upgrade housing of the very poor neighboring areas, in order to test his ideas but also to build support and recognition among academicians. The criteria of selection was that students who participated in upgrading neighboring squatter areas, had to be from these areas. The idea behind these university projects was to make students aware of the realities of their own living conditions and construction methods, and to teach them more local-oriented techniques as opposed to the Western-oriented building techniques they were learning from university text-books.

On a project financed by the EU and the Ministry of the Environment, Miniawy worked with 61 local Bedouins to create a visitors’ center near the monastery of St. Catherine, using local limestone, granite and dolomite. He developed paving tiles (out of local clay and high iron-oxide content, local fine aggregate, and sand), bricks (out of BTS using local clay), and plastering materials (out of local clay known as “heeba”) for the area leading to the Edfu temple. He has also developed 200,000 local bricks (made out of clay from Qattamia, cement dust from Helwan and sand) and used them in some upgrading measures undertaken in Manshiet Nasser as well as to build a theater financed by the GCZ in what used to be a garbage-dump. A hydraulic press (capacity 2000 bricks/day) was bought in addition to supplementary equipment to prepare the bricks and more than 40 construction workers from the area have been trained to produce the bricks. Recently, he built the Dinishway Museum, financed by the Ministry of Culture.

So far Hany has been testing and experimenting with his idea in Egypt and getting the government’s certification of the material he is producing before producing it in large quantities. He has tested local soil for potential building materials, processed polluting material and treated it to create new building materials, and he has gotten government approval as he has obtained indicators that are even better than the Egyptian code. To this date, Hany has trained and transferred his know-how to between 1000-1500 youth, through involving the communities he works with in Mansheyet Nasser, Edfu, Upper Egypt, the Delta, and Bulaq el Daqrour. The strategy is to create mobile construction and learning centers. In these centers he trains small groups of local youth on how to experiment with local materials to create building materials, and how to build homes in a faster, easier, and more sustainable way. In a process that is based on dialogue and a mutual learning-process, Hany asks the youth for their ideas about construction, and together they create a new consensus. Youth come out of the training with the skills to create materials and build homes that are cheaper, easier to build, and environmentally-friendly, thus they gain a comparative advantage over other architects. After the training, they do not need Hany to build homes, and they can teach others Hany’s methods so that his ideas can spread as widely as possible. The “center” is then easily dismantled and moved to another area.

Hany is now at a stage where he can first consolidate and institutionalize his idea with a plan for expansion. If he becomes an Ashoka fellow, he will leave the management of his construction firm to his wife and partner and will focus on institutionalizing an consolidating his idea. The first step during the first year will be to work with the Mubarak/Kole vocational training national program to develop a relatively more standardized curriculum and manual that can be easily used by others. This manual will also include how to establish the mobile centers. It is also estimated that 40 construction workers will be trained annually. The association with Mubarak/Kole will help the trainees get a certificate.

Hany is also negotiating with the Ministry of Housing a scheme whereby the Ministry provides land, an NGO provides credit to women and squatter dwellers, and Hany works with the local construction workers and the people themselves build their own homes and upgrade them. Once this model is completed, institutionalized, and recognized by the state, NGOs, and the community, Hany intends to promote it and replicate it under a number of NGOs and in other governorates in Egypt. The model will include the mobile center, the training manual and certificate, the experimenting with and use of local environment-friendly material, use of easy and appropriate building techniques, and community involvement. The next step will be to mass produce the bricks using local materials. It is also estimated that each year he will train between 50 local construction workers. Based on past experience, he believes that at least 20% of these workers will be able to train others and work as team leaders in other areas. Therefore in five years, he will directly train 250 workers of whom, at least 50 will be team leaders, and will be each responsible for training another 50 trainees, i.e another 2500 will be trained on how to establish a center, make appropriate local material and learn building techniques.

His idea of scaling up is not physical scaling up, but the spread of his know-how and changing people’s and communities’ perceptions of how to use housing material and techniques. He will continue to use the demonstration approach in different areas in Egypt because that is how he will be able to build supporters and believers in his material and techniques. People, he believes, are not convinced unless they see for themselves.

His center for training and production is a mobile low-cost center that adapts itself to every area and this is where he is truly unique. The constant variables are there: He works with the community members and builds on local knowledge, tests and uses appropriate low-cost local material and uses easy and quick building techniques. In each area or demonstrative center, he will also compare his idea and techniques with the mainstream to show decision-makers and the community the benefits of his idea. The important value added is that the Mubarak kole National Vocational Skills Program recognized Hany’s program and he managed to reach an agreement with them, as well as the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Local Development, and the Ministry of Housing, to use his idea and techniques in 5 to 6 areas in the next 2 years. These governorates include Aswan, Luxor, Qena, Marsa Matrouh, Hurghada, and Giza. The choice of these peripheral governorates is intentional as he wants to stop the internal migration to Cairo and create skills and employment opportunities in these areas. The Mubarak Kole will help him structure his training course and the Training Department of the Ministry of Housing will give the graduates an official certificate. Hany is very particular about how he chooses the trainees. They must have been in the construction business, school-dropouts, and reflective. They are trained on the job.

Hany Miniawy was brought up to believe that religion is not about appearances, but rather it is about leading an active and meaningful life from which people can benefit. His father was an accountant, but was forced to shut down his small accountancy firm during the time of Abdel Nasser. Hany started school in Victoria College in Alexandria, but later moved to a public school in heliopolis in Cairo. In school, he was very sportive, playing soccer and water-ski and both him and his brother became Egyptian national water-ski champions.

Studying architecture at the Faculty of Fine Arts at Helwan university, he questioned why it was that architecture students in Egypt only learnt about Western architecture and urban planning, both of which were not appropriate to the climate nor cost-effective. After the 6 day war of 1967, he felt there was “darkness” in Egypt and an atmosphere of shock and despair after Egypt president Abdel Nasser had convinced Egyptians that they were the greatest people and then Egypt lost the war in a matter of hours. He could not stand it and wanted to travel abroad, at a time when it was very rare for anyone to leave the country. When asked by his father who was against the idea of him leaving Egypt, why he wanted to leave, he said that Egypt was “dark” and that at least abroad it was “gray.” A number of films he had seen also inspired him to leave Egypt to go to France and Germany: Help (the Beatles film), Woodstock, and Blow-up. In 1969, in his second year of the Faculty of Fine Arts, he traveled and worked for four years between France, Germany, and Algeria, seeking a better future. He would stay 6 months in Europe and then come back to Egypt for another 6 months and then go back to Europe again. Ever since he left Egypt, he says he has been extremely adventurous. He went to Germany with only $10 since his father did not want him to travel and his mother is the one who supported his decision and gave him the money for the air-fare. He stayed in a hostel for 3 marks a night, and when his money was finished he slept in a garden. But he soon found an internship in an architectural office and entered many architecture competitions. In France, he experimented with all sorts of jobs including dish-washing. He spent much of his time abroad, reading, researching, and learning languages. He also read western literature about eastern architecture and pharaonic methods.


Hany stayed in Algeria from 1974 to 1988. It was in Algeria that he could first put his ideas to practice, treating the selection and production of building materials as a process, that should be different for every environment, rather than offering pre-designed solutions. Unlike many architects, Hany strongly believes in involving the communities in which he works to be an integral part of his projects. Rather than imposing solutions on the poor, he believes that it is important to benefit from their local knowledge and resourcefulness. Hany has come to believe that the selection and production of building materials should be a process that varies from place to place depending on the availability of local materials and climactic conditions. Building materials should not be pre-designed for all areas and climactic conditions. This differs markedly from the ideas of Hassan Fathy, an architect who constructed Nubian architecture in areas of Egypt that are rich in other materials and styles. Hany is a proponent of rationalism, a school of thought which contemplates the relationship between resources and needs. He realizes that inhabitants of squatter areas have little resources, but he believes that they are extremely rational and so their ideas must be incorporated in any effort to reconstruct their homes. Unlike Miniawy, Fathy did not rely on involving the community in his scheme and at the end his “style” of building was used only by the rich.
In 1988, Hany came back to Egypt because he won a tender to design ‘Madinat al-Uboor,” with the Germans. It is here that he met his Egyptian wife, who is now his partner at the consultancy firm. Hany has 2 sons from his first marriage and twin-boys from his second marriage. He later won another tender for the design and upgrading of Greater Cairo, financed by the French. In Algeria, he was involved in architecture in the desert, but when he came to Egypt he was attracted and hooked on illegal settlements and squatter areas. He believed in the potential of these people. Similar to De Sotto, he believes that these people should have access and ownership to their land in order to have collateral. But unlike De Sotto, he believes that they should not be drowned in the formal financial institutions but should be catered to by NGOs and micro-credit programs. He believes these people must decide for themselves and actually participate in building and planning their homes. During his time in Egypt, he has addressed the problems of squatter areas in 2 ways. First, by working on his idea of low-cost housing that includes involving the community in using appropriate low-cost material. Secondly, by encouraging donors and the government to try out his ideas in remote governorates. He wants to create skills and employment in these governorates to decrease the migration from the rural to the urban areas.

Hany has been very creative in responding to local problems. The idea of having mobile training centers is unique. It decreases costs and also helps to spread the know-how and to reach different areas and people. . Also in 1994, he was asked to help build houses for the fishermen on Lake Nasser in Southern Egypt. The problem was that they had to live 40 km away from the shore because of the high tides during the floods. The project, financed by the UN World Food Program, singled him out as extremely innovative.. Hany came up with a simple, but highly innovative way of addressing this problem. He managed to use the local know-how and local material to build mobile low-cost and easy to move homes that the fishermen could move around in response to the tide. He also came up with the idea to place schools and hospitals on boats, that could move to where the mobile homes had moved. He has built a school for children in an old boat, creatively adapting to local conditions, to facilitate access to education.
He has been involved in private construction contracts throughout these years. Hany has worked on “regional development” including the agricultural development of desert-land with Bedouins in areas between Marsa Matrouh and Siwa, and in the Western Desert. He was in charge of the construction of the Egyptian section of EXPO 2000 which took place in Hanover, Germany.

Hany has been working informally on this idea for many years, while accepting different work-opportunities such as the GTZ and EU projects because he had to earn an income. He has been testing his idea through the projects he was involved in because he could not afford to focus on it. If he becomes an Ashoka fellow he will expand on his idea and scale-up.