The reasons for the
foundation of a new settlement could be varied: security, often combined
with economics, as in the case of the southern fortress towns (Buhen);
cultic and administrative needs (Kahun); political motives seem to have
led Akhenaten to found Akhetaten. The main consideration where to build
was generally proximity to a waterway and height above the floodplains.
Adobe buildings are very vulnerable when brought in prolonged contact with
water, be it seeping groundwater or the rising Nile. But even stone
edifices are in danger of collapsing, above all when their foundations are
as flimsy as those the Egyptians built.
Akhenaten's workmen on the other hand had to live in crowded flats of 60 m², or 100 m² if there was a second floor, which were not very different from those of Senusret's workmen at Kahun or the Ramesside artisans of Deir el Medine. The parallel streets were about two metres wide, and practically the whole space inside the walls was occupied by houses.
But plot owners were not free to do as they liked. They had to take into account their neighbours' rights and wishes and reach an understanding with them.
I make an undertaking that when I build my house, which is the western (border) of your house and which lies in the northern district of Thebes, in The House of the Cow and the borders of which are as follows: in the south the courtyard of Padineferhotep's house, in the north the house of Mrs. Tadineferhotep, between them the King's Road, in the east your house, touched in the south and north by walls of my house and serving as a retaining wall as long as I shall not lay any beams on top of it. In the west the house of Pabimut and the house of Djedhor... that is two houses with the King's Road lying between them.Even if they liked living on ground level, Egyptian city dwellers had little choice about adding further storeys. Land suitable for building, i.e. above the floodlevel of the Nile and still reasonably close to the river, was rare. Many Egyptians either preferred or were forced to live in these crowded conditions. At Akhetaten where there was no lack of suitable land, some private homes were still built in the same warren-like fashion.
Temple districtsTemple districts on the other hand were better planned. The outlay of individual temples was basically symmetrical. Walls surrounded them. At Hotep-senusret the brick wall on three sides of the temple was 12 metres thick and lined with limestone.
Avenues leading through the city to the temple district were wide, suitable for processions. During recent excavations near the great pyramids a paved street five metres wide was discovered. Pavement of streets was rare, generally restricted to the temple complexes themselves.
Originally most temples were surrounded by an empty space, but over time houses were built right up to the outer temple walls. These houses decayed and were rebuilt many times over the millennia, with the result that the ground level of the residential area rose and the temples which, being built of stone, were not periodically rebuilt, seemingly sank into the ground.
The temenos, the temple enclosure, could also have strategic value. At el-Kab the temple was built at the centre of the town, and its ramparts could furnish a last shelter for the garrison in case the town itself were taken by an enemy. At other places (Ombos, Edfu etc) the whole population lived inside the temple enclosure.
Bigger towns like Memphis or Thebes had a number of temples which at first were separate, but were interconnected by sphinx avenues from the 18th dynasty onwards.
PalacesRoyal palaces housed apart from the pharaoh's main family, his secondary wives, concubines, and their offspring, also a small army of servants. The whole compound was enclosed and separate from the rest of the capital, albeit close to suppliers of services, temples and the seat of the administration.
Unlike the temples which were, at least from the outside, mainly symmetrical, Egyptian palaces were at times a conglomeration of functional units not hidden behind a unifying façade, even when they were built by just one pharaoh and were not the result of successive builders adding onto an initial building. Akhenaten's palace at Akhetaten was of this kind, the residence of the royal family was separated from the main palace by the main avenue, but connected to it by a bridge. Ay's palace on the other hand - if we are to believe a wall painting in a tomb - was strictly symmetrical, and looked as much like a castle as like a palace.