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Fathy’s oeuvre

During his career, Fathy designed more than thirty projects; however, only two-thirds were actually constructed, either fully or partially. Fathy’s style was not linear; it shifted and varied at different stages of his career. Following Steele (1989), Fathy’s projects can be categorised in five significant phases: Early Works (1928-1937), Mansoura and its Aftermath (1937— 1957), the Years in Greece (1957-1962), Return to Egypt (1962-1980), and Late Works (1980-1988).

During the first phase, Early Works (1928-1937), Fathy was influenced by the Beaux Art classical style; structures include the Talka Primary School (1928). In making use of flat roofs, curves, and international style characteristics, with no reference to historical forms, Fathy demonstrated an awareness of current global themes. However, towards the end of this period, his style started to transition, as evidenced by projects such as Villa Hesh- mat or Garvice Villa. The second phase was defined by the 1937 Mansoura Exhibition, at which he exhibited a number of gouache paintings of rural landscapes and traditional houses with typical Egyptian typology. These paintings marked a new turning point in which his drawings of old peasant houses in luminous landscapes evoked nostalgia for a more prosaic past. The appreciative public response to these drawn renders of unbuilt idealistic projects set Fathy in a new and revolutionary direction (Steele, 1989). The Hamid Said house (1942) in the Marg neighbourhood of Cairo was Fathy’s first mud-brick construction during this new period (Figure 2.1). The house is still standing, a testimony to the endurance of traditional rammed earth construction. Fathy’s iconic magnum opus, the design of the New Gourna Village, 1945-1948, took place during this period. The next important phase in Fathy’s career was his Years in Greece. During this time, from 1957 to 1962, he worked at the Doxiades Organisation in Athens.

The period after his Return to Egypt (1962-1980) represented the fourth and the busiest period of Fathy’s career; this phase was notable for his various writings on sustainability, rammed earth construction, vernacular

Floor Plan of Hamid Said House, Marg Neighbourhood, Near Cairo, Egypt, by Hassan Fathy

Figure 2.1 Floor Plan of Hamid Said House, Marg Neighbourhood, Near Cairo, Egypt, by Hassan Fathy

Source: © Aga Khan Trust for Culture/Albek A. and Niksarli M.

architecture, and architecture for the poor as well as his innovative projects and buildings: residential, religious, nurseries, and even entire communities. The last phase is the Late Works (1980-1988), a period that can be defined by a group of eight residential projects, as well as his final community project, Dar al-Islam. It was this time that Fathy’s skill and ability to reflect each client’s particular character and requirements within his designs reached their apex, as represented by the houses designed and built for Murad Greiss, Casaroni or “Mit Rehan,” Hatem Sadek, Gerald Andrioli, Hassan Rashad, Master Mason Alaadin Mustapha, and al-Talhouni, as well as the late President Anwar Sadat’s rest house.

Throughout the five periods of Fathy’s career, he endeavoured to create revolutionary prototypes for a variety of projects, private residences, public buildings, and community projects. The most representative of the enduring six values of architecture are the community projects; these punctuated his career after the success of his Mansoura Exhibition paintings in 1937. His first community project, and the most internationally renowned, is New Gourna Village constructed in 1945 to replace Old Gourna Village that sprawled on top of important tombs in burial grounds adjacent to ancient Thebes, a site of huge archaeological importance. Concerned about the desecration and tomb robbing by the villagers, the Department of Antiquities asked the government to relocate the village so they could carry on their excavations. A government commission then decided to construct a new village in a location that would be chosen by the mayor of Gourna, local sheikhs, Fathy, and the Department of Antiquities. Designed to accommodate the 7000 residents of Old Gourna, Fathy welcomed the opportunity to build a whole new village based on traditional forms, methods of construction, and materials. Prior to the construction of the village, Fathy undertook a detailed survey, which included sketches, photographs, and a demographic study of the habits and behaviours of its occupants as well as the village’s architectonic characteristics. For Fathy, there were two main considerations: the socio-economic and health issues of the villagers and building architecturally appropriate houses for them. He thus decided to satisfy individual needs, opposing the single prototype (Pich-Aguilera and Maluenda, 1989).

The primary social unit in Old and New Gourna is the “Badana,” a group of ten to twenty families from different economic backgrounds bound by strong kinship ties to the same patriarch. The houses in the Badana are organised around a central square, which has a similar function to that of the courtyard in a private house. For occupants, there is a gradual transition from inside to outside, starting from an inner porch, then through a private courtyard and into the Badana square, and finally entry onto the street. Of extreme importance in such structures is visibility of the sky: the sky is a key cultural element in the Islamic societies as it represents serenity. The courtyard not only allows a connection to the sky, but it also traps cold air to provide natural cooling. Fathy designed the Gourna Theatre (Figure 2.2) with ancient Greek and Elizabethan theatre architectural principles in mind. In this way, the materials and proportions subtly interact through the entire design (Pich-Aguilera and Maluenda, 1989).

Fathy firmly believed that the Gourna project should be a collaborative effort that included client, architect, and craftsperson, each one of whom would take responsibility for the whole. With this in mind, a

The New Gourna - Village Theatre, New Gourna, Egypt, by Hassan Fathy

Figure 2.2 The New Gourna - Village Theatre, New Gourna, Egypt, by Hassan Fathy

Source: © Aga Khan Trust for Culture/Christopher Little (photographer) masonry-training programme was established at New Gourna in 1948, in order to take advantage of available, yet unskilled, workforce in the village; this would help to reduce the cost and provide locals with practical skills for a future job. He envisioned such an entrepreneurial self-built project with an authentic architectural response to local heritage would be welcomed by the residents (El-Shorbagy, 2010). Unfortunately, Fathy encountered many obstacles during the construction of the new village, including virulent opposition from the villagers and interference from the Department of Antiquities and later the Department of Housing who rejected Fathy’s construction material of choice, rammed earth, as impractical, and instead opted for concrete. As a result, most of the project was never completed and Fathy was abject at his failure. He returned to his teaching position at the School of Fine Arts chastened, but wiser and more reflective.

Fearning from the failed prototype of New Gourna, another series of community projects followed. For example, Lulu’at al Sahara (The Pearl of the Desert) was built a year after the debacle of New Gourna; this was followed by a Jesuit crafts centre and ceramic factory in Garagos, Qina. Fathy was able to implement some of his visionary ideas when he collaborated with the like-minded architect Ramses Wissa Wassef. He drew up plans for the Harraniya Crafts Centre, envisaged as a self-contained community project devoted to the revival of traditional crafts, in particular weaving. This self- sufficient prototype eco-village represented a clear rejection of expanding industrialisation. Located in the countryside, the design for the weaving village included series of pedestrian alleys and housing clusters interspersed with fields that radiate from a centrally placed artificial lake. The village would interconnect with fields that would not only provide pastureland for sheep but also for the plants that would be used to dye the sheep wool. However, while the original concept was never realised, its important elements later re-emerged in the designs used to construct Ramses Wissa Was- sef Weaving Village. The much-lauded village was built in Shabramant, near Harraniya. In 1983, it won the AKAA and was widely acclaimed as a sustainable prototype of an ecologically and environmentally self-sufficient village model.

Another environmentally sustainable village was the Village of New Baris, 1967. The site was chosen because of the 1963 discovery of a water well 60 kilometres away in Kharga Oasis. This new village was designed to accommodate 250 families, more than half of whom were agricultural workers (Figure 2.3). Although Fathy applied many lessons learned from the mistakes of New Gourna, for various reasons, despite the importance he placed on dialogue between architect and user, he was unable to communicate with the future occupants during the design process to receive their input and suggestions. Therefore, many decisions were taken only with

New Baris Village - Market Area, Kharga Oasis, Egypt, by Hassan Fathy Source

Figure 2.3 New Baris Village - Market Area, Kharga Oasis, Egypt, by Hassan Fathy Source: © Aga Khan Trust for Culture/Avedissian Chant (photographer) climatic, demographic, and geographic considerations in mind (El-Shorbagy, 2010). Studying traditional architectural methods of dealing with an arid and hot climate that can reach 50 degrees Celsius, Fathy opted to use thermal mass and natural air movement and was thus able to reduce temperatures up to 15 degrees. The residential area of New Baris makes use of private courtyards and is organised around linear north-south streets. During the project, and in keeping with Fathy’s belief in stakeholder involvement, a Co-operative Neighbourhood Project for Kharga and a Training Centre were inaugurated under the Desert Development and Reclamation Bureau to provide the necessary local construction workforce.

The last community project Fathy designed was for a non-profit educational organisation in Dar al-Islam Village in Abiquiu, New Mexico, 1980 (Figure 2.4). The plans reflect his maturity in responding to individual client requirements. This 11-square-mile project is the apex of Fathy’s achievements, a successful culmination and amalgamation of all the community projects he had been involved in throughout his career. As this new village was intended for 150 Muslim families living in an American context, it was designed to resemble the environments of a typical Muslim community. The architect used adobe as the main construction material, an economical solution to creating a technologically complex and iconographic design. The village is arranged in a traditional Islamic way, with a main

Dar al-Islam Village - South Facade, Abiquiu, New Mexico, United States, by Hassan Fathy Source

Figure 2.4 Dar al-Islam Village - South Facade, Abiquiu, New Mexico, United States, by Hassan Fathy Source: © Rachid Idir Aadnani; square or maidan in the middle; there is also a second piazza (square), with a mosque as the dominant structure. The two squares are surrounded by the residential clusters. This large functional yet innovative and complex project perfectly epitomises the importance of Fathy as the most significant proponent of culturally relevant, utilitarian, and sustainable architecture of his era (Steele, 1989).

In his housing projects, inspired by both the spatial and environmental systems of Old Cairo, Fathy preserved the traditional Cairene spatial system (Salama, 2006): the majaz (entrance), the qa’ah (reception hall), the dorqa’ha (central part of qa’ah), the iwan (recess in a wall), and the courtyard, as well as the no-cost rammed mud-brick of traditional Nubian buildings. Flis first mud-brick house was the Hamid Said house in Marg 1942. This house, partially envisioned in his series of gouache paintings at the 1937 Mansoura Exhibition, is masterfully designed and functionally organised. His residential designs, especially after the failure of the New Gourna project, began to show a more eloquent approach to the use of spatial systems (Steele, 1989). Additionally, Fathy’s travel and study of the Turkish palaces of the Bosphorus while he was designing the Monasterli House were inspirational and reinvigorating. He continued to design a variety of houses where landscape and striking views were skilfully integrated, an example of which is Fathy’s own house, built in 1971, in Sidi Krier near Alexandria. The house’s main section used wide arches to provide sea views of the cerulean blue of the Mediterranean while smaller windows on the street side restricted views of the nearby highway.

In 1950s Egypt, education was beginning to include previously neglected rural areas, farms, and villages. Schools were needed to provide for the educational needs of a growing population of children from these areas. Fathy endeavoured to provide a cost-effective design solution for schools as a prototype that could be implemented in such impoverished villages across Egypt. In 1950, he was appointed the director of the Department of School Buildings, his primary job was to design and supervise school construction for the Ministry of Education. The school at Fares, between Luxor and Aswan, was to be an innovative prototype. Fathy decided to separate the communal activities (mosque, library, and assembly hall) and administrative functions in an east-west orientation while classroom clusters or modules were orientated north-south. In order to provide natural ventilation, the architect designed an interior corridor facing a courtyard, the classrooms were ranged along the corridor, and each classroom consisted of two spaces for an inner domed space for seating and learning and a connecting exterior space with a pool for cooling the incoming air, similar to the salsabil.6 Unfortunately, in the end, the school was never built. However, the basic design premise of the Fares school was later used in the community of Edfu. For Fathy, the period between 1937 and 1957 was a time of theoretical implementation (Steele, 1992) as well as experimentation, resolution, rejection, and perseverance.

Fathy’s influence

In some respects, according to El-Shorbagy (2010:46), Hassan Fathy could be considered “the unacknowledged conscience of 20th century architecture.” The ideas expressed in his designs were eventually acknowledged and developed in projects done by others, sometimes three decades later. Hassan Fathy’s determination to define and implement a national architectural identity in Egypt attracted many cohorts of architects. He was a model for future generations, demonstrating, in both his projects and his writings, that the past should always be considered as a crucial and tangible as well as an intangible source of knowledge and inspiration. He thus left a definitive legacy in the movement towards sustainable and eco-friendly architecture. Yet some may argue that Fathy’s disciples and architects who followed his approach, such as Abdel Wahed El-Wakil, Gamal Amer, Ahmad Hamid, and Ramy El Dahan, have only applied the symbols of Fathy’s style rather than its essence (Siddiqui, 2000). While this is debatable and requires validation and more in-depth investigation, it is undisputable that Fathy’s ideas regarding inclusive architecture for the poor and for rural populations eventually came into vogue within the Egyptian upper middle class thanks to the work of his adherents. This is evident in many private residential projects, tourist and resort villages, and mosques. Even the state mosque of Qatar, the Imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Mosque, pays homage to his designs with its vaulted ceilings, natural mud-brick coloured exterior, and functional spaces. Compared to many of his contemporaries and disciples, Fathy’s ideas and beliefs that advocated community-based, regional, sustainable, earth architecture were seldom adopted. To commemorate and honour Fathy’s ideas, in 2009 Bibliotheca Alexandrina launched an award in his name to promote his ideas and the enduring values of sustainable traditional architecture through its central ethos.7

Despite the lack of appreciation in his homeland during his lifetime, Fathy’s work has had a significant influence on architecture worldwide. He received multiple international awards. He also worked abroad, with the Doxiades Organisation in Athens, and lectured at the Athens Technical Institute on subjects related to climatic architecture. International critics such as James Richards suggest his approach is actually a disguised or embedded modernism because of its promotion of social responsibility and commitment to improving human living conditions as well as a similar way of stating forms. He compared Fathy to modernists such as Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, as all three architects integrated structure with form, creating independent systems supported by effective symbolism (El-Shorbagy, 2010). In his book, The Language of Post-Modern Architecture (1977), Charles Jencks acknowledges that Fathy’s traditional approach is similar to postmodern architecture, in that both are concerned with vernacularism, contextuality, metaphor, and symbolic architecture (Jencks, 1977). In this respect, Fathy occupies a controversial position between modernism, postmodernism, and alternative modernism8 while his work has generated and continues to generate unprecedented intellectual and academic discourse in Egypt and in many architectural circles globally.

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