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Glorious Past, Unstable Present, Bleak Future

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The button panel of a 1920s Art Deco Schindler elevator in a building in the Zamalek neighborhood of Cairo.

An article from The Indian Express details the past grandeur and present dilapidation of most elevators in Cairo, Egypt. The antique elevators don’t function properly, with jolts and stops at wrong floors that cause people to take the stairs rather than put up with the unreliability. Considering that antiques comprise most of Cairo’s elevators, this problem is an everyday frustration. A further problem is that most manufacturers have stopped making the parts necessary to fix the elevators, some of which have served buildings for a century. Because of this, they will inevitably be replaced with new, modern elevators.

Despite this, Cairo’s antique elevators are works of art, made from wood and glass and metal. Many contain mirrors and some have built-in leather benches. They hold a rich history, having once transported wealthy passengers at the city’s height of glamor and acted as a kissing booth for young Egyptian couples in a country that discourages public intimacy.

Today, these elevators act as lobby centerpieces, if nothing else. When passenger functionality finally outweighs their beauty, they will be replaced. As the article says, this “is the Cairo way.”

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An elevator and stairwell in a neo-baroque style apartment building in downtown Cairo.

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