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.
"Under the auspices of the United Nations Rural Development Project, Fathy also designed a prototypical housing unit for the village of Dareeya at this time. As the patriarchal home of the Al-Saud family, Dareeya intrigued him because it had once been an outstanding example of Najdi mudbrick architecture before its destruction in the factional struggles that lead up to the unification of the country under King Abdul-Aziz. The Dareeya prototype is not only a masterful interpretation of one of Saudi Arabia's most symbolic regional styles, but also offers valuable clues to the process involved in that reading. The documents, which include a survey of a typical existing house in the village, carefully show how each of the rooms relates to an interior courtyard, and achieves the separation of male guests from the family quarters within. The new proposal mirrors these sensibilities to a great degree, even to the extent of the location, sequencing and proportion of the rooms involved, and the use of the roof as a sleeping area on hot summer nights. Typical Najdi decoration, such as wall crenellations, cuneiform vents and elaborate column capitals are also used to establish a stylistic connection with the past architecture of Dareeya. Finally, critical shading diagrams are used to show how courtyard proportions of height and width were established to produce maximum shading and how diurnal and seasonal zoning mandates the final positioning of spaces within the house. One of these prototypes was actually built, but local resistance to a traditional architectural approach prevented its repetition."
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, 52-53.