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Beliefs and ideologies

Although Fathy had been trained in the Beaux Arts traditions of architecture, he eventually started to oppose the foreign architecture features promoted in Egypt at the time; he instead focused on integrating and expressing local concepts and culture. In his early years as an architect, Fathy involved himself in continual experiment, discovery, and investigation of various forms and materials, gradually developing a unique architectural signatory style tied to place and tradition. In his designs, Fathy sought to encompass the best aspects of both past and present, although some considered him a sentimental romantic (Steele, 1992). He firmly believed that the role of the architects is to create equilibrium between architecture artistic sensibilities and societal needs (Moustaader, 1985). Fathy compared the satisfaction of completing a successful architecture project with summiting a mountain peak; he valued landscape and nature as God-made environments. Indeed, all his residential projects, even the ones built in stone due to the later ban of mud-brick construction, are still illustrative of the sensitive relationship between human-made and natural elements (Steele, 1989).

For Fathy, tradition in architecture was a tangible heritage and intrinsically important; he was inspired by the vernacular spatial forms, rejecting purely functional and modernist formations. Fathy used local construction methods to create functional organic buildings that firmly rooted them to their environment in their proper place. He believed that embracing the architecture of the past is indispensable to maintaining the cultural identity of a place and should not, in fact, be replicated elsewhere (Moustaader, 1985). Additionally, Fathy adopted climatic building efficiency inspired by traditional preindustrial Egyptian systems, such as the courtyard housing models of Mamluk and Ottoman Cairo, thus creating a unique and revolutionary construction ethos. As a staunch opponent of the international style and the idea of universality in architecture or imported internationalism, he rejected the modern movement, feeling it did not prioritise human needs and social values. Nevertheless, he recognised and acknowledged the scientific and technological stance within the profession of architecture, although he did not accept that they were the sole tools of design, especially in reference to the developing world. Fathy was also against ornamentation, for him people’s spiritual and physical needs took priority.

As Fathy endeavoured to solve the Third World’s endemic housing problems, he paid great attention to architectural concepts and artistic sensibilities such as the harmony and proportions of traditional forms. He considered proportion, colours, textures, and harmonious forms in architecture and town planning projects as musical keys or notes. Like musical works, these elements have the power to resonate with the psychology, emotions, and inner feelings of users (Holod and Rastorfer, 1983). He also compared learned architectural techniques with music scales: the same way music scales are not actual music by themselves, techniques are not architecture or art on their own, but only a means of creating architecture or art. According to Steele (1989), Fathy believed that true modernity comes from solving physiological and psychological needs appropriately, not from following international trends or the application of mere style. In essence,

Fathy perceived the building process as an important social practice as well as a spiritual act.

The autonomous aspect of industrialisation, for Fathy, signified death for architecture, as it causes dissonance between humans, nature, and the materials, and traditions promoted by classical architecture. By and large, Fathy believed that architecture is actually an imposition that impinges on people’s everyday lives; additionally, the architect can often be perceived as a dictator, especially in relation to designs for public buildings (Fathy, 1961). However, if, during the design process, culture and cultural traditions are kept in mind and an attempt is made to respond to both physical and spiritual needs, beautiful and meaningful architecture could easily be developed to satisfy those basic needs and instincts.

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