Photo by Ben Curtis/AP

Sure, the Internet and social media played a role in getting people to communicate when Tunisia and Egypt were in revolt of their governments. But it was really urban planning that created the physical space for gathering.

If you think about it, squares and parks are the best places for protests to function. One reason is because they are open, and go hand in hand with organizing it, says Israeli architect Tali Hatuka. "Public spaces are the only place in which people feel truly, physically unified," says Hatuka, who researched the link between urban design and quality of protests long before the recent Middle East upheaval. "With so many protests going online, the physical element is critical for enhancing society's sense of togetherness and solidarity."

"As the recent events in Cairo suggest, a protest space doesn't have to be nice or well-designed," Hatuka says. "A large-scale protest like this has shown that people will just hijack the streets and the roads."

Dwell magazine too has a fascinating interview with UC Berkeley architecture professor Nezar AlSayyad, in particular about the peculiar urban design that went into Tahrir Square; where hoards of people gathered to protest in Cairo. He explains that the square was perfectly designed to host a massive anti government protest. Here are excerpts from the interview:

"Why from a design angle was it so successful as a point of protest?"
Twenty-three streets lead to different parts of it, which is why it was so successful with the demonstrators. There isn't one big boulevard that you can block off, and there are two bridges that lead to it as well. One of them saw a clash between the regime and the demonstrators. It's also the case that all of downtown Cairo, which isn't that big, has a street that leads to side or another of Tahrir Square.

"Can you give us a bit of history of Tahrir Square in Cairo?"

Tahrir Square came into existence 140 years ago during the time of another ruler who was considered ruthless, Ismail. He had lived in Paris, in Haussmann's Paris and saw the changes that came about in France under Napoleon III and he wanted to remake Cairo in the image of Paris. If George Bush was the decider, Ismail was the modernizer. So he redesigned an area that was all pretty much vegetation adjacent Nile, and from time to time would be flooded by the Nile. It was known as Ismailia Square because of him.


"But it's not really a city square in strict urban planning terms is it?"

No, it's not exactly a square at all. For one, the Nile borders one edge, so that's not straight. And it's not surrounded by buildings on all four sides, it only has buildings on one side. It's an ill-defined space that is constituted by five or six adjacent spaces, and in a sense no one really paid attention to it.