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FATHY, HASSAN (1900-1989) more properly Hasan Fath-1, Egyptian architect, teacher, philosopher, and reformer. Born in Alexandria, Hassan Fathy pursued a prolific architectural career for more than a half century as a lonely reformer whose success was only evident toward the end of his life and after it. His reformist agenda was systematically opposed to official architec-tural discourse in Egypt. Early in his career he defied his own French- Beaux-Arts education in a series of modernist designs reflecting affinities with contemporary European avant-garde trends; sharply contrasting with the so-called Islamic Style an orientalization of Beaux-Arts rules applied in Cairo during the 1920s). After nearly ten years of experimentation, however, Fathy became an adamant foe of the International Style, which subsequently dominated architectural practice in Egypt. Fathy deplored the attempt of its adherents to alter what they saw as the decadent status Quo of Muslim

societies by enforcing universalizing modern technology and standardized architectural expression.

No viable reform, Fathy maintained, can result from the forcing on the public an alien elitist taste and arbitrary ions that disregard the local traditions and environment of a country like Egypt, the majority of whose population were poor peasants. To achieve an authentic and affordable architecutre, Fathy advocated the regeneration and esthetic adaptation of indigenous building technologies and their associated traditional myths and rituals. This vision was partly inspired by his observing the impoverishment as well as the untapped traditional res ources .)t villagers during visits to this father’s agricult-ural estates and Upper Egypt.

Fathy thus synthesized his formal language by borrowing from the rural mud architecture of Upper Egypt and the urban vernacular and high architecture of medieval Cairo, fusing rural folk practice with the monumental urban tradition. He applied sun-dried mud brick both as a harmonizing formal medium for his synthetic forms and as the structural core of an inexpensive vaulting technique transmitted to him by Nubian craftsmen, eating this architectural syntax tirelessly throughout the rest of his career.

In 1945-1948 a government commission to design an town. New Gourna, to relocate villagers near Luxor in Upper Egypt, provided Fathy with an excepimplement his vision on a full ur-ban scale. This experience was, however, marred by bureaucratic obstacles, which Fathy documented in his 1968 Architecture for the Poor, and was tragic in its conseq ences. The incomplete design met the re sis tance (.?t villagers. who were alienated not only by government coercion but also, ironically,  by what they peras Fathy’s  parochialism. The villagers would not lerate visual/spatial    segregation from their few precious animals, so they rejected the split-level arrangement of the basic house unit Fathy had designed out of concern for improving their hygiene. Ominous to them, too, were Fathy’s abrupt transpositions of symbolic forms like dome—–which villagers traditionally associate burial place—to crown living spaces. Fathy’s frustration was compounded by the failure of the design to appeal to the internationally oriented architectural establishment in Egypt, who have continued until today to perceive Fathy as a naive reactionary.

After five -years of self-imposed exile and practice in Greece (1957-1962) Fathy’s career was marked significant shift in social e emphasis. Although he never re linquished the cause of sheltering the poor. Fathy’s clientele gradually shifted to be almost exclusively the upper-crass elite. These patrons appreciated the romantic as well as environmental qualities of his style and hence its capacity to represent both their sophisticated taste and their cultural authenticity. The suburban villas Fathv designed for them during the 1970s and 1980s on the road to the Saqarra pyramids near Cairo and elsewhere in the Arab world represent fine- picturesque examples of his later work, in which he also applied more durable and expensive materials such as stone.

Fathy was internationally recognized late in his life after the English and French publication of his Architecture for the Poor it, 1973, a time of considerable disenchantment in the western world with the failure of International Modernism to communicate shared meanings. Fathy consequently received numerous honors and was invited in 1980 to transpose his utopia to the United States by designing Dar al-Islam, a settlement, for converted Muslims in Abigtuiu, New Mexico. Simultaneously, some of his disciples successfully marketed Iris design formula to Saudi royal patrons for rebuilding a series of important historic mosques. Drive by the concern to reinforce its own legitimacy, the Saudi monarchy apparently hoped that monuumentalization of the traditional imagery of Fathy’s style would engage increasing pro-Islamic, sentiments more successfully than the previously adopted, abstract International style. Indeed, the current influence of Fathy’s message forms on many young Arab architects seeking authentic cultural expression cannot be underestimated. Fathy’s reform thus seems to have gone full circle, from representing an oppositional marginal culture, via the bourgeois elite, to an official state style. To what extent this transformation is a triumph for Fathy’s thought is open to debate.

[See also Architecture, article on Contemporary Forms.]


Works by Hassan Fathy

Gourna: A tale of two villages, Cairo, 1969.

The Arab House in the Urban Setting: Past, Present, and Future. London, 1972.

Architecture for the Poor: An Experiment in Rural Egypt. Chicago, 1973. “Constancy, Transposition  and Change in the Arab City.” In From Madina to Metropolis, edited by L. Carl Brown. Princeton, 1973.

Natural Energy and Vernacular Architecture: Principles and Examples with Reference to Hot Arid Climates. Chicago. 1986.

Other Source,

De Popolo, Margaret, and Reinhard Goethert. Hassan Fathy, Architect: An Exhibition Selected Projects. Cambridge, Mass., 1981.

Holod, Renta, and Darl Rastorfer. “Hassan Fathy. Chairman’s Award.” In Architecture and community Building in the Islamic world Today, pp. 235-245. New York, 1983.

Richards. J.M., et al. Hassan Fathy. Singapore, 1985.

Steele, James. Hassan Fathy. London, 1988.

Steele, James, comp. The, Hassan Fathy Collection. Geneva, 1989.

Yasir M. Sakr

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/fathy-hassan/

  • writerPosted On: November 26, 2012
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