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 Harraniya Crafts Centre is a third community project, which like those of Lulu'at al-Sahara and Garagos, is much less well known than New Gourna, yet represents an important member of the group of examples of this typology designed by Fathy. Carried out in collaboration with the architect Rarnses Wissa Wassef, and the Ministry of Scientific Research, the centre was based on a dual belief in the natural creative ability of children and the need for the material self-sufficiency to allow that natural creativity to have free rein. As the son-in-law of the famous educator Habib Gorgy, who first promoted these ideas in Egypt, Ramses Wissa Wassef became intrigued with the concept of an utopian, self-contained weaving village in which Gorgy's theories could be tested. Along with Fathy and Hamid Said, Wassef also believed in the critical importance of reviving national, traditional crafts in the face of the threat of expanding industrialization.
The essence of the village, which radiates out from a man-made lake at its apex, is the reciprocal relationship between the housing units and the fields next to them. These fields, which were intended to sustain both the sheep from which the wool for the weaving would be taken, and the plants that would yield the natural dyes to colour them, symbolically alternate with the houses in which the young weavers live. In this way a repeating rhythm of protected agricultural areas and contained pedestrian streets is set up by the interlocking lines of the houses between them. The direct contact between the houses and the fields also allows the farm animals to be brought into the interior of each house, which is an important factor in rural Egypt, and was first attempted by Fathy in his design of the houses in New Gourna. As the plan progresses from the green agricultural perimeter towards the lake at its apex, it becomes more and more public in function, and this is where the majority of the facilities for weaving, selling, storage and shipping are located. Although never realized in the form documented here, the Ramses Wissa Wassef weaving village was finally built in Shabramant near Harraniya, and was the recipient of an Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1983. The extraordinary tapestries woven by the children there have become the pride of Egyptian contemporary art, and are now exhibited in galleries throughout the world."
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, 22.