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.
Source: The Aga Khan Trust for Culture. 1989. The Hassan Fathy Collection. A Catalogue of Visual Documents at the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. Bern, Switzerland
Fathy, Hassan. "Aided Self-Help Or Cooperation." 28 May 1960. Hassan Fathy Archives. Aga Khan Trust for Culture. Geneva, Switzerland.
Written for: The Special Occasion Of The 25th Congress Of The International Federation Of Housing And Planning
Date: May 26, 1960
In this paper, Fathy uses his experiences from the construction of the village of Gourna to further his noted agenda for "aided self-help," a method of finding construction means through which manpower and resources are utilized from within the local infrastructure and natural resources, and regional building techniques in each specific rural area. He delineates the financial and economical problems faced when undertaking rural development projects and then explains how the aided self-help method can alleviate several of these problems.