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Maybe it’s fitting that the first day of LafargeHolcim’s big-name Forum for Sustainable Construction in Cairo was marked by tension: between the ostentation of energy-guzzling megaprojects, and the architects trying to find new ways to build sustainably. One of the first speakers was Khaled Abbas, the Egyptian deputy minister of housing, who described how his department was building gleaming new cities in the desert. Their purpose is to alleviate the overcrowding in Cairo, which has a population of more than 20-million people, and is one of the fastest-growing cities in the world. About 500,000 people flood into it each year. (Joburg’s population is approximately 5-million.) The biggest new desert city is the as-yet-unnamed capital, about 50km outside Cairo. It has been designed to accommodate more than 5-million people in an area of about 700km², roughly the size of Singapore, and is said to be the biggest planned city ever. It envisions a new lifestyle for Egyptians, and presents ...

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