Fathy, Hassan


Hassan Fathy was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1989. He graduated from Cairo University (then King Fuad I University) in 1926, where he studied architecture. He worked at the Department of Urban Affairs in Cairo, then taught at the Faculty of Fine Arts. He returned to teaching frequently during his career.

He devoted himself to building affordable living spaces using local materials and traditional building methods that are suited to the environment. His houses take advantage of natural ventilation techniques such as air scoops to catch the wind, dense mud brick walls and traditional courtyard forms to provide passive cooling. In the Village of New Baris, Kharga oasis, where summer temperatures reach 50C, he focused on natural systems for cooling such as putting storage areas below grade and refining the design of the malkaf (wind catch), adding towers to increase air circulation and he achieved temperature reductions of 15 C. He showed how social needs could be met using familiar vernacular styles, and he believed that houses could be built to fit the needs of the people for whom they were intended.  

He believed that traditional building methods and materials would provide an economical solution to the problem of housing Egypt’s poor.

His best known project is New Gourna. In 1945 Egypt’s Department of Antiquities commissioned Hassan Fathy to build the village of New Gourna in Luxor, to resettle 7000 residents of old Gourna, also called Sheikh Abd el Qurna, from the Valley of the Kings in the Antiquities Zone. Fathy employed the skills of Nubian craftsmen who are masters at constructing domed and vaulted roofs from mud brick.

The project was not completed due to the reluctance of the villagers to relocate. One factor was that Egyptian peasant dreamed of living in “modern” concrete highrises, rather than new mud brick houses. Today, the mosque, a few houses and the house Fathy built for himself remain intact.

His design principles and reliance on traditional materials were applied to building projects in Egypt and abroad in places as India and New Mexico. Among the completed projects are

Hamdi Seif al-Nasr House, Fayyoum 1945
Hassanein Mausoleum, Cairo, 1946
New Gourna, Luxor, 1946
New Baris Village, Kharga, 1967
Dariya Housing, Saudi Arabia, 1975
Dar al Islam Village, Abiquiu, New Mexico, 1980
Sadat Resthouse, Gharb Husayn, 1981
Khalil al Talhuni House, Jordan, 1988
Children’s Hospital, Siwa, 1989

He received the National Prize for Fine Arts and Republic Decoration, 1967.
He was made Honorary Fellow of the American Institute for Architecture ,1976.
Founder and Director of the International Institute for Appropriate Technology, 1977.
Among his awards is the Chairman’s Award, Aga Khan Foundation, 1980.

His files, drawing and notes are exhibited at the American University of Cairo’s rare collections.