"The village of New Gourna, which was partially built between 1945 and 1948, is possibly the most well known of all of Fathy's projects because of the international popularity of his book, "Architecture for the Poor", published nearly twenty years after the experience and concentrating primarily on the ultimately tragic history of this single village. While the architect's explanations offered in the book are extremely compelling and ultimately persuasive, New Gourna is still most significant for the questions it raises rather than the problems it tried to solve, and these questions still await a thorough, objective analysis.
The idea for the village was launched by the Egyptian Department of Antiquities as a potentially cost-effective solution to the problem of relocating an entire entrenched community of entrepreneurial excavators that had established itself over the royal necropolis in Luxor. The village of New Gourna also seemed to offer Fathy a perfect opportunity to finally test the ideas unveiled at Mansouria on a large scale and to see if they really could offer a viable solution to the rural housing problem in Egypt.
The Village was meant to be a prototype but rather than subscribing to the current idea of using a limited number of unit types, Fathy took the unprecedented approach of seeking to satisfy the individual needs of each family in the design. As he said in Architecture for the Poor, "In Nature, no two men are alike. Even if they are twins and physically identical, they will differ in their dreams. The architecture of the house emerges from the dream; this is why in villages built by their inhabitants we will find no two houses identical. This variety grew naturally as men designed and built their many thousands of dwellings through the millennia. But when the architect is faced with the job of designing a thousand houses at one time, rather than dream for the thousand whom he must shelter, he designs one house and puts three zeros to its right, denying creativity to himself and humanity to man. As if he were a portraitist with a thousand commissions and painted only one picture and made nine hundred and ninety nine photocopies. But the architect has at his command the prosaic stuff of dreams. He can consider the family size, the wealth, the social status, the profession, the climate, and at last, the hopes and aspirations of those he shall house. As he cannot hold a thousand individuals in his mind at one time, let him begin with the comprehensible, with a handful of people or a natural group of families which will bring the design within his power. Once he is dealing with a manageable group of say twenty or thirty families, then the desired variety will naturally and logically follow in the housing."
All of the architect's best intentions, however, were no match for the avariciousness of the Gournis themselves, who took every opportunity possible to sabotage their new village in order to stay where they were and to continue their own crude but lucrative version of amateur archaeology. Typically but mistakenly misreading the reluctance of the people to cooperate in the design and building of the village as a sure sign of the inappropriateness of both programming and form, many contemporary critics fail to penetrate deeper into the relevant issues raised by this project. These issues now, as at the time of construction half a century ago, revolve around the extremely important question of how to create a culturally and environmentally valid architecture that is sensitive to ethnic and regional traditions without allowing subjective values and images to intervene in the design process. In the final analysis, the portion of New Gourna that was completed must be judged on this basis."
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, 16-18.
Fathy, Hassan. Memorandum Regarding The Conversion Of Gourna From A Model Village To A Touristic Village. Hassan Fathy Archives. Aga Khan Trust for Culture. Geneva, Switzerland.
Written To: The Minster of Tourism
Fathy discusses the scale and scope of the project in this memorandum. He outlines several reasons for the project and the main objectives which include the relocation of the villagers from their existing homes to newly constructed ones in order to preserve and locate the ancient graves present under their current homes. He also puts forward and clearly explains his two phase plan for the project.