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.
"The Hamid Said house in the al-Marg neighborhood of Cairo represents an important project in the collection because it is the first documented application of mud brick construction, and is still standing. The first phase, which was built in 1942, was simply a studio and sleeping space for the artist and his wife, incorporating a large vaulted loggia as an open exterior sitting area from which to appreciate the seemingly endless green palm grove surrounding the property. The construction of the house coincided with a climate of concern among Egypt's intellectual community at that time about the detrimental effects of industrialization on the traditional cultures of the world and the need for a search for Egyptian origins in the face of the threat. Hamid Said intended this house, in the midst of a vast tract of the same date palms and papyrus that signified Egypt's lush agricultural legacy in the past, to be both a restatement of these original agrarian roots of Egyptian culture, and a rural recreation of a studio, called "Tangezia", that he had once had in the Muqattem Hills. The final siting of the first section of this house was determined by camping out in a tent on the property with the architect for some time before construction actually began.
The second phase, which followed four years later, was equally sensitive in accommodating the environment, having been organized in such a way as to avoid several large trees on the site. A characteristically variegated and top-lit gallery of a type that was continuously refined by Fathy in subsequent designs serves as a transitional element between the first and second phases of the house, yielding framed views into a central courtyard which is the client's reward for allowing the trees to remain." (designed in 1942; construction completed in 1945)
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.