Hassan Fathy was an Egyptian Architect born into a middle-class upper Egyptian family in Alexandria on the 23rd of march in 1900. He graduated as an architect in 1926 from the King Fuad I University, which is now known as Cairo University. 

Hassan Fathy: Egypt’s architect of the poor - Sheet1
Hassan Fathy in Cairo_Dimitri Papadimos personal archive with his son Ioannis D.Papadimos_Wikipedia

He initiated his career as a teacher in the College of Fine Arts, Cairo University in 1930. A trilingual, cosmopolite, professor-architect-engineer, amateur musician, and dramatist who realized his utopia by becoming the architect of the poor.

His Ideology and Work | Hassan Fathy

In the late 1930s, he constructed his first adobe buildings. From the get-go in his profession, he started to examine the pre-industrial building systems of Egypt to comprehend their tasteful characteristics, to realize what they needed to educate about environment control and financial development strategies, and to discover approaches to put them to contemporary use. 

He was highly influenced by the climatically efficient houses of Mamluk and Ottoman Cairo: Astutely shaded and ventilated owing to two-storey halls, mashrabiyas and courtyards, and the prominent indigenous mud brick construction.

He was intrigued by the thought of providing a house to the poor. Fathy attempted to establish a native climate at an insignificant expense, and in this manner to improve the economy and the way of life in provincial zones. 

He observed and analyzed that structural steel and cement are not the best materials available for a poor country, also timber and glass used in the building did not make much sense to him, considering the economic weightage they carried. He used old plan techniques and materials. 

He prepared neighborhood occupants to make their materials and fabricate their structures. Climatic conditions, general wellbeing contemplations, and antiquated specialty abilities likewise influenced his plan choices. Because of the underlying massing of antiquated structures, Fathy joined dense brick walls and traditional courtyard forms to give passive cooling.

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New Baris Village Egypt_Archidatum.com


Hassan Fathy’s work opposes the very notion of western architectural influence, as depicted in all of his projects. Highly influenced by the traditional and cultural values, and embedded these characteristics to produce something that would be in harmony with the local context. He was involved in 160 separate projects, ranging over a wide domain. 

To inculcate the vernacular style of architecture, he was commissioned to construct New Gourna, built to resettle the village of Gourna, which fell within the archaeological areas of the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, and gained international critical acclaim for his involvement. 

He was applauded in a popular British weekly in 1947 and soon after in a British professional journal. He later went on to author a book on the New Gourna project entitled “Gourna: The tale of two villages” published in 1969, and in 1973, it was re-published as “Architecture for the Poor: An Experiment in Rural Egypt”, explaining the genesis of the settlement to be created which was partly built between 1945 and 1948. 

Some critics have observed, notwithstanding, that Fathy’s project for Gourna is not a superlative illustration of how to focus on vernacular architecture in a metropolitan arrangement, given that the domed architecture Fathy advocated is generally used for funerary architecture instead of residential or domestic spaces. 

Hassan Fathy: Egypt’s architect of the poor - Sheet3
New Gourna Street_whc.unesco.org


He later went to Cairo in 1953 to take charge as the head in the Architectural Section of the Faculty of Fine Arts in 1954. Fathy’s next significant commitment was designing and supervising school construction for Egypt’s Ministry of Education

In 1957, frustrated with organization and persuaded that buildings designed with customary methods proper to the environment of the territory would speak stronger than words. He moved to Athens to team up with worldwide planners advancing the principles of ekistical-design under the heading of Constantinos Apostolou Doxiadis.

He served as the supporter of customary common energy solutions in significant local area projects for Iraq and Pakistan and attempted expanded travel and research for the “Cities of the Future” program in Africa. In 1963, he moved to Darb al-Labbana, close to Cairo Citadel, where he lived and worked for the rest of his life.

He also did public speaking and private consulting. He was a man with an arresting message in a period searching for alternatives in fuel, personal interactions, and financial support. Fathy is featured in the documentary Il ne suffit pas’ que dieu soit avec les pauvres (1978) by Borhane Alaouié and Lotfi Thabet, meaning it is not enough for God to be with the poor. 

Fathy designed the mosque and madrasa, constructed with adobe, at Dar al-Islam, an educational center near Abiquiú, New Mexico, USA. The main buildings were completed in 1981, and Dar al-Islam opened in 1982

Awards and Recognition

Hassan Fathy was awarded numerous times for his contribution to modern vernacular architecture. On top of the list of his achievements would be Aga Khan’s Chairman Award for Architecture in 1980, Balzan Price 1980, Right Livelihood Award 1980, and UIA Gold Medal 1984. 

After a career span of around 5 decades, he breathed his last breath in 1989 aged 89 that time. 37 years down the line, google celebrated Fathy’s birth anniversary pioneering new methods [in architecture], respecting tradition [Egyptian heritage and tradition], and valuing all walks of life”.

Hassan Fathy: Egypt’s architect of the poor - Sheet4



Naveen is a student of architecture who is exploring his way out to the world of architecture and art. A full-time learner, part-time reader, and an occasional writer.