Hasan Fathy’s Architecture for the Poor

Egypt is known for pyramids and pharaohs.  It is also where an Egyptian architect named Hasan Fathy developed an indigenous style of architecture for the poor, rooted in traditional craftsmanship and vernacular architecture.

Getting there

During my backpacking tour of ancient civilizations, I took a short flight from Athens to Cairo after travelling through Italy and Greece.  I couldn’t wait to explore the land of the pharaohs after exploring the Greek and Roman civilizations.  After visiting the pyramids at Cheops near Cairo and indulging in touristic things, I took a road trip with several Egyptian colleagues to the stepped pyramids at Saqqara followed by the ruins at Luxor.  But the best part of the trip was the visit to New Gourna village near Luxor by the Egyptian architect Hasan Fathy.

Street scene - New Gourna Village near Luxor in Egypt

Street scene – New Gourna Village near Luxor in Egypt 1

Hasan Fathy’s new Gourna Village

Hasan Fathy is world renowned for his trendsetting architecture rooted in traditional craftsmanship and vernacular architecture.  Instead of following the modernist works of Le Corbusier and others, Hasan Fathy was interested in developing a style of architecture that was rooted in local traditions, and was built with local materials using skilled labor.  It was the architecture for the poor as he wrote in his book by the same name. 

Architecture for the poor

New Gourna village was conceived as a settlement for the people displaced by the archeological findings near the old Gourna village.  Fathy used mud bricks and combined that with sustainable elements such as enclosed courtyards, vaulted ceilings, and perforated walls, which were prevalent in the old village.  What resulted was an architecture that was appropriate and appealing to the masses, and was aptly labeled as the architecture for the poor.

New Gourna Market - New Gourna near Luxor in Egypt

New Gourna Market 2

Search for an indigenous style

Expressing his frustration with modern architecture built with concrete and steel and endorsed by the Egyptian bureaucracy, Fathy argued for an indigenous style rooted in Arab traditions and local climate.  He wrote that modern Egypt lacked indigenous style, had no character, and was cut off from its traditions.  He devoted his life to search for an indigenous style and was successful in developing such a style at the new Gourna Village. 

New Gourna Mosque

New Gourna Mosque 3

Postmodern vernacular or new modern

For many, Fathy’s work represents postmodern vernacular, however Fathy was a contemporary of modernist architects and his work can truly be described as a different type of modernism.  The type of modernism that looks forward as well as looks backward to find a blend of new modernist spirit rooted in local traditions.

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