Media coverage and users' reactions : Al Azhar Park in Cairo re-examined

Salama, Ashraf M; Preiser, Wolfgang and Davis, Aaron and Salama, Ashraf M and Hardy, Andrea, eds. (2014) Media coverage and users' reactions : Al Azhar Park in Cairo re-examined. In: Architecture Beyond Criticism. Routledge, pp. 91-103. ISBN 9780415725323

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This chapter examines the hypothesis that projects celebrated in the public or specialized media are not necessarily meeting users’ expectations or satisfying their needs. This premise is derived from the contemporary design discourse that emphasizes that influential publications foster the image of architecture as art and only art (Nasar 1986; Sanoff 1991; Salama 1995). They present the formal aspects of the work of star architects where the creation of the built environment is seen within geometric abstract and artistic terms. It is possible to assert that in the media typically very little attention is given to users’ feedback or behaviour, needs or expectations. Furthermore, it is widely acknowledged that a considerable portion of the general and architectural media still adopt the view of architecture as art; thereby the media content is expected to be supportive of this view. Stemming from this argument, the purpose of this chapter is to examine whether the intensive media coverage of Al Azhar Park, a massive project that is portrayed as a new green lung for Cairo, as a sustainable urban development project indicates its success from the users’ perspective. A multilayered methodology was devised in a manner that involves the implementation of two investigation mechanisms. The first is a preliminary content analysis of a total of 64 online and printed publications that covered the project in reporting, descriptive, as well as analytical terms. The objective of this procedure is to discern the way in which the project was portrayed in the media and what aspects were most praised. The second mechanism is a survey that involves users’ reactions to park design, nature of activities, and management issues. Responses from 184 users were analysed while relating aspects celebrated in the media to users’ feedback. By developing knowledge on how the users and visitors of Al Azhar Park perceive the project and how the spatial qualities meet their needs, an in-depth insight into the understanding of the merits of the project is developed. In addition, assessing different aspects of the park may reveal specific shortcomings, which could eventually lead to recommending ways of improvement.