Hassan Fathy: The Middle East’s Father of Sustainable Architecture

Image via Green Prophet

By Tafline Laylin at Green Prophet

Hassan Fathy, an Egyptian architect saw the value of natural building long before it became a fad in the west.

Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy died in 1989 but left behind a legacy of 160 building projects ranging from small projects to large-scale communities complete with mosques and schools.  His impact can still be felt from Egypt to Greece and even New Mexico, where in 1981 he designed the Dar Ar-Salam community.  Fathy received several awards for his work, including the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1980, and founded The International Institute for Appropriate Technology in 1977.

Architecture for the poor

One of his first assignments after graduating in 1926 from what is now the University of Cairo was to build a school at Talkha, a small town along the Nile in Northern Egypt.  The absolute squalor of the place “haunted” Fathy: the streets were littered with rotten food and filthy water, the buildings were dilapidated, and the peasants who lived there had accepted their depressing lot.  This experience inspired him to improve the lives of those who were powerless to do so without help.

Fathy wrote in his book Architecture for the Poor: “They needed decent houses, but houses are expensive. In large towns capitalists are attracted by the returns from investment in housing, and public bodies…frequently provide extensive accommodation for the citizens, but neither capitalists nor the state seem willing to undertake the provision of peasant houses…”

New is not always better

While other architects were seeking fame and fortune, Hassan Fathy saw the genius of incorporating traditional design and building materials.  He wrote “here, for years, for centuries, the peasant had been wisely and quietly exploiting the obvious building material, while we, with our modern school-learned ideas, never dreamed of using such a ludicrous substance as mud for so serious a creation as a house.”

Fathy cared more about improving the standard of living for the people he served than he did about fancy western materials and technology.

In 1946 he was commissioned by Egypt’s Antiquities Department to build New Gourna Village for 3,000 families who were raiding the ruins at Luxor.  The villagers weren’t so excited about being displaced, but Fathy committed to smoothing their transition.

He built thick brick walls and traditional courtyards, which both supported cultural values and created passive cooling, and enlisted the villagers as builders of their own homes. This not only reduced labor costs and created jobs, but also helped the villagers to connect with what Fathy considered a sacred space. Home for him was a place to seek solace and comfort from the outside world.

Finally, Hassan Fathy respected that nature should take precedence in the design of new structures. “Architectural form should consider the forces in nature of wind, rain, even how an earthquake shaking it would make it fall in a pattern that follows the geological formation of a mountain,” he once wrote.

No doubt Dubai’s artificial World Islands would have seemed preposterous to him. In short, Fathy’s designs were affordable, congruent with nature, elevated the human condition, and they were sustainable.  We think this is a model that would better serve the Middle East than other lavish projects taking place.

Article via Green Prophet.


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. seiko クレドール
    Sep 05, 2013 @ 04:56:51

    gs seiko


  2. Hasan M
    Nov 28, 2012 @ 00:42:24

    Simply go to google images and put Hassan Fathy in the search and you see many views of his work and images of the books he wrote. Great posting thanks for bringing him to my attention.


  3. SEsideJC
    Sep 21, 2012 @ 06:31:03

    Enticing introduction to Hassan Fathy has my curiosity. Photographs to illustrate would help my meager imagination. Thanks for posting, jc


  4. josephbc69
    Sep 19, 2012 @ 07:50:40

    I loved discovering this genius, but felt the article would have been twice as good w/say four or five photos of his works.


    • Fitzcarraldo
      Sep 20, 2012 @ 09:05:06

      I agree with josephbc69. Photos would have done better work than words could, especially when describing the visual and ecological effects of objects.


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