Hassan Fathy, born in 1900 in Alexandria, Egypt, was an Egyptian architect, artist, and poet who had a lifelong commitment to architecture in the Muslim world. He was a cosmopolitan intellectual, with knowledge of Western and Eastern literature and philosophy, absorbing the influences of very different traditions. He used his knowledge of mathematics and music investing them in simple domestic constructions with the dignity of harmonic proportions.
Hassan Fathy, Egyptian Architect devoted himself to housing the poor in developing nations and deserves to be studied by anyone involved in rural improvement. He worked to create an indigenous environment at a minimal cost, and by doing so, to improve the economy and the standard of living in rural areas. In his works, Fathy wanted to pay tribute to nature, traditions, and man while seeking spirituality. All these qualities distinguish him from the traditional notion of a modern architect.
In this article, we take you through a selection of 15 of the most significant projects of Hassan Fathy, Egypt’s best-known architect since Imhotep, and winner of both the Aga Khan Chairman’s Award for Architecture and the Alternative Noble Prize in 1980.
1. New Gourna Village by Hassan Fathy
The village of New Gourna, which was partially built between 1945 and 1948, is possibly the most well known of all of Fathy’s projects because of the international popularity of his book, “Architecture for the Poor“, published nearly twenty years after the experience and concentrating primarily on the ultimately tragic history of this single village. While the architect’s explanations offered in the book are extremely compelling and ultimately persuasive, New Gourna is still most significant for the questions it raises rather than the problems it tried to solve, and these questions still await a thorough, objective analysis.
The Hamdi Seif AI-Nasr rest house is sited on a long thin peninsula of land projecting into Lake Fayum and was intended to be used during the landlord’s periodic visits to his estate there. The design as documented represents an ambitious first interpretation of the client’s requirements, resulting in a solution that is quite large in both plan and vertical section. Raised on a man-made podium to protect it from flooding, the house plan revolves around the interplay between an arcaded square exterior courtyard and the high formal vertical dome to which it is connected by a deep window and malkaf above. The various other spaces of the house are all related in one way or another to the linear axis set up between these two elements and fall on either one side or the other of the line that they create, depending upon the level of privacy required.
3. New Baris Village in Kharga, Egypt by Hassan Fathy
No other project dominates this mature phase of the architect‘s work as much as the village of New Baris, in a way that is comparable to the notoriety of New Gourna twenty years before. This remote and forbidding wilderness outpost designed by him, which is almost in the geographical center of Egypt, was planned to initially house 250 families, of which more than half were intended to be farmers and the remainder to be service personnel. His previous experience with such a project, and particularly his ability to build it inexpensively, made Fathy the logical choice as the architect for New Baris.
4. Andreoli Residence in Cairo, Egypt
Andreoli Residence, 1984, Fayyum was built for Katarina and Gerry Andreoli, who lived in Cairo during the 1980s, the house was located in the vicinity of Tunis al-Gabal village in Fayyum.
5. Shahira Mehrez Apartment in Cairo, Egypt
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 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.
6. Ceramics Factory in Qina, Egypt by Hassan Fathy
A second community-oriented project that followed New Gourna at this time was a Jesuit based crafts center located at Garagos, which was intended to improve the standard of living of the people in the village there. The plan for a ceramics factory while deceptively “low-tech” in appearance, represents an extremely logical and efficient production diagram for the manufacture of pottery.
7. Khalil al-Talhuni House in Shuna Janubiyya, Jordan
This house is an unusually fine example of Hassan Fathy’s consistent care for residential space used for hospitality. The outside area, enclosed by arcades, is primarily given over to this function and balances well with the more private character of the interior.
8. Dar Al Islam in New Mexico, USA
The last community project undertaken by him was Dar al-Islam, a nonprofit educational organization established in Abiquiu, New Mexico. Nuridin Durkee, an American Muslim Scholar and Sahl Kabbani, a Saudi businessman, co-founded the project in 1979 with backing from the family of King Khalid ibn Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia.
9. Beit ar-Rihan in Kuwait City, Kuwait by Hassan Fathy
A private residence for the al-Sabah family, entirely constructed in brick and completed during 1981. Some of the arches appeared to have failed, and in 1988, the Jordanian architect Badi al-Abed undertook their restoration and completion of the residence according to Fathy’s designs.
10. Hamed Said’s Studio in Cairo, Egypt
The Hamid Said house in the al-Marg neighborhood of Cairo represents an important project among all Fathy’s projects 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.
11. Abd al-Rahman Nassif House in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia
The house was built with a stone block recovered from the demolition of the traditional tower houses in the old city, which the client unsuccessfully tried to save. Rather than using the familiar dome over the majlis here, the architect felt that an octagonal shukshieka would be more regionally appropriate, and the use of this particular element carries over into a larger house designed in Tabuk soon afterward.
12. Sadat Resthouse in Garf Hoseyn, Egypt
Intended as a rest house to be used on official trips to the isolated area around Lake Nasser in Nubia, the residence is actually made up of three separate buildings sequentially organized according to the status of each.
13. Akil Sami House in Dahshur, Egypt by Hassan Fathy
This house, and several others that followed it in the same area, were built in local limestone because of a governmental ban on the use of mud-brick following the construction of the high dam, as well as unsatisfactory test results for the structural strength of the soil in this area, first confirmed in the Fouad Riad project. The Takhtabush and courtyard area of the house with wooden pergola, recall the latticework notably used in the Moastirli residence in 1950 also by him.
14. Casaroni House in Giza, Egypt
The Casaroni residence, or “Mit Rehan” [‘Pathway of the Basil’] as it has been called by its owners, is very near the Greiss house on the Shabramant Road and is one of the most elegant of Fathy’s residential works yet to be built. Construction was once again overseen by the client rather than the architect, more specifically by Mahmood Fahmy, who saw to its timely completion.
15. The Fathy House in Sidi Krier, Egypt
In the house designed for himself in Egypt, the use of typologies and traditional forms is combined with influences from other cultures, transforming them in his style. The design of the house has noble sobriety and a human size and all the pieces have been designed according to a symphony of forms and ideas but also moods and materials. Fathy wanted the house to be a successful prototype of a low-cost structure, all beautiful, but also a model for tourist units.