Hassan Fathy was born in 1900 in Alexandria, Egypt. He was an Egyptian
architect, artist and poet who had a lifelong commitment to architecture in the
Muslim world. Early in his career he began to study the pre-industrial building
systems of Egypt to understand their aesthetic qualities, to learn what they
had to teach about climate control and economical construction techniques and
to find ways to put them to contemporary use.
systems dominated his thinking: the climatically efficient houses of Mamluk and
Ottoman Cairo, ingeniously shaded and ventilated by means of their two-storey
halls, mashrabiyyas and courtyards; and the indigenous mud brick construction
still to be found in rural areas. The latter consists of inclined arches and
vaults, built without shuttering, domes on squinches built over square rooms in
a continuing spiral, semi-domed alcoves and other related forms. The urban
housing forms of Cairo could not serve Fathy directly as a replicable source
because of the disappearance of the building traditions that created them.
These fine old houses enriched his imagination, however, and were to become
models for later large-scale work. The ancient mud brick forms, in contrast,
were still being produced by rural masons unchanged. Stimulated by what he had
learned, Fathy had what was then a revolutionary idea. He perceived that a
connection could be made between the continuing viability of mud brick
construction and the desperate need of Egypt's poor to be taught once again to
build shelter for themselves.
Hassan Fathy devoted himself to housing the poor in developing nations and deserves study by anyone involved in rural improvement. Fathy worked to create an indigenous environment at a minimal cost, and in so doing to improve the economy and the standard of living in rural areas. Fathy utilized ancient design methods and materials. He integrated a 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. Climatic conditions, public health considerations, and ancient craft skills also affected his design decisions. Based on the structural massing of ancient buildings, Fathy incorporated dense brick walls and traditional courtyard forms to provide passive cooling.
Awards 1959: Encouragement Prize for Fine Arts and Gold Medal. 1967: National Prize for Fine Arts and Republic Decoration. 1980: Chairman's Award, the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. 1984: Union Internationale des Architectes, Gold Medal.
"A second community-oriented project that followed New Gourna at this time was a Jesuit based crafts centre located at Garagos, which was intended to improve the standard of living of the people in the village there. The plan for a ceramics factory, while deceptively "low-tech" in appearance, represents an extremely logical and efficient production diagram for the manufacture of pottery. The spaces in the complex are organized sequentially, beginning with the delivery of the clay, which is available locally, through its screening, washing, preparation and storage and then on to the workshops where it is sculpted and formed. After sculpting, the pottery is fired, packed, stored and shipped.
The tricky problem of how to utilize the desirable northern exposure in all of the workshop spaces and yet maintain a compact, linear organization is solved by running all utilitarian spaces not used by the craftsmen perpendicular to the studios so that they act as dividing elements, and take up less room across the plan. The final spatial organization of the complex is not only arranged in a highly functional way, but also results in a satisfying horizontal massing of the elevation. The large curve of the dome covering the offices of the supervisory personnel on the one extreme, balanced by the thin vertical smokestack of the firing kiln on the other, act as visual brackets for the undulating curves of the vaults that wave up and down between them. The volumetric composition of the centre as actually built is much altered from this first concetions as intended."
Steele, James. 1989. The Hassan Fathy Collection. A Catalogue of Visual Documents at the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. Bern, Switzerland: The Aga Khan Trust for Culture. 21.