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Hassan Fathy

2015-08-02

Hassan Fathy (1900-1989) renowned as Egypt's best-known architect since Imhotep (the builder of Zoser complex and pyramid at Sakkara, Giza, Egypt) . Graduated in 1926 from the King Fuad University (now Cairo University),  Fathy was an Egyptian architect who has been credited for his valorisation of a culturally specific architecture, which tried to accommodate traditional modes of living whilst being affordable for the majority of the population.

 

His approach to building was based on the Nubian mud building techniques of the Upper Egypt, where arches and vaults were used to construct roofs without expensive formwork, a technique that he feared had been lost altogether until his discovery of villagers still using the ancient methods. Fathy combined this technique with elements from the vernacular urban “Islamic” architecture of Cairo, incorporating into his designs elements such as the malqaf, a wind catcher, the mashrabiya, a wooden lattice screen, the qa'a a cool central room on the upper-storey of traditional houses with high ceilings and natural ventilation, and the salsabil a fountain or basin of water positioned to increase the humidity of the dry desert air.

 

In his book Architecture for the Poor, Fathy sets out his philosophy and techniques in the context of his most well-known project, New Gourna (West bank, Luxor). This was a planned village commissioned by the Egyptian government in 1946 to house villagers who were to be displaced from the Antiquities Zone near Luxor, in order to stop them raiding the ancient tombs. Fathy used this opportunity to test his ideas on a large-scale, of providing socially and economically viable public housing that was built cooperatively by the owner-dwellers, with help and advice from architects and specialised craftspeople.

 

Hassan Fathy was a cosmopolitan trilingual professor-engineer-architect, amateur musician, dramatist, and inventor. He designed nearly 160 separate projects, from modest country retreats to fully planned communities with police, fire, and medical services, markets, schools, theatres, and places for worship and recreation. These communities included many functional buildings such as laundry facilities, ovens, and wells. He utilized ancient design methods and materials, as well as knowledge of the rural Egyptian economic situation with a wide knowledge of ancient architectural and town design techniques. He trained local inhabitants to make their own materials and build their own buildings. In 1953 he returned to Cairo, heading the Architectural Section of the Faculty of Fine Arts in 1954. Moving to Athens as consultant. Returning to Cairo in 1963, he moved to Darb al-Labbana, near the Citadel, where he lived and worked for the rest of his life. He also did public speaking and private consulting. He was a man with a riveting message in an era searching for alternatives in fuel, personal interactions, and economic supports.

 

Fathy is regarded as one of the founders of appropriate technology movement; the use of local materials and construction methods, as well as the desire to create an architecture that was socially and economically suited to its context makes his work especially relevant today. Fathy was recognized with the Aga Khan Award for ArchitectureChairman's Award in 1980.

Quotes:

“Any housing solution that involves paying for industrially produced building materials and commercial building contractors is doomed to certain failure. If houses are to be built at all, in sufficient quantity, they must be built without money. We must go right outside the framework of the money system, bypass the factories, and ignore the contractors”.

 

"At all costs, I have always wanted to avoid the attitude too often adopted by professional architects and planners: that the community has nothing worth the professionals' consideration, that all its problems can be solved by the importation of the sophisticated urban approach to building. If possible, I want to bridge the gulf that separates folk architecture from architect's architecture.

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“Build your architecture from what is beneath your feet”.