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 first of Fathy's residential projects upon his return to Egypt is small in scale but has a combined effect that far exceeds the physical size of the area concerned. In order to personalize her own apartment on the sixth floor of a building designed by another architect, Shahira Mehrez asked Fathy to try to work within the existing framework to create a more varied and individual series of spaces for her. Using the central stairway of the building as a dividing line between the areas set aside for a private apartment and a commercial space to be used for the sale of traditional Egyptian arts and crafts, Fathy turns the seemingly inflexible restrictions of exterior wall locations, structure and circulation space to his own advantage. By using variations in vertical scale, as well as level changes and highly detailed surfaces and forms to particularize each zone, the architect manages to expand the feeling of space in what might otherwise become an impossibly congested rabbit-warren of rooms. The private apartment itself, which is shown in some detail in an otherwise incomplete plan, consists of a majlis-type sitting room with a fireplace and a small library. In addition, there is a similar sitting space reproduced on an outside patio, a formal dorqa'a with another fireplace, a kitchen, and a master bedroom suite which includes a dressing room and a skylit sunken Japanese bath. The spatial variety, richness and charm of this apartment, which is also greatly enhanced by Miss Mehrez's choice of furnishings, carpets and fabrics, makes it difficult to believe that it is located in Dokki, in the heart of urban Cairo."
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. 51.