Fathy, Hassan (1 of 4) National Life Story Collection: Architects' Lives

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  • Recording locations

    Cairo, Egypt

  • Interviewees

    Fathy, Hassan, 1900-1989 (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Courtney, Cathy (speaker, female)

  • Abstract

    Part 1: [interview summary to follow] Fathy, Hassan (1900 – 1989, Arabic: حسن فتحي) was a noted Egyptian architect who pioneered appropriate technology for building in Egypt, especially by working to re-establish the use of mud brick (or adobe) and traditional as opposed to western building designs and lay-outs. Fathy was recognized with the Aga Khan Award for Architecture Chairman's Award in 1980. Hassan Fathy was born in Alexandria in 1900. He trained as an architect in Egypt, graduating in 1926 from the King Fuad University (now Cairo University). He designed nearly 160 separate projects, from modest country retreats to fully planned communities with police, fire, and medical services, markets, schools, theatres, and places for worship and recreation. These communities included many functional buildings such as laundry facilities, ovens, and wells. He utilized ancient design methods and materials, as well as knowledge of the rural Egyptian economic situation with a wide knowledge of ancient architectural and town design techniques. He trained local inhabitants to make their own materials and build their own buildings. He began teaching at the College of Fine Arts in 1930 and designed his first mud brick buildings in the late 1930s. Fathy gained international critical acclaim for his involvement in the construction of New Gourna, located on Luxor's West Bank, built to resettle the tomb robbers that operated in the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens. Fathy designed and supervised the school construction for Egypt's Ministry of Education. In 1957, he moved to Athens to collaborate with international planners evolving the principles of ekistical design under the direction of Constantinos Doxiadis. He served as the advocate of traditional natural-energy solutions in major community projects for Iraq and Pakistan and undertook extended travel and research for 'Cities of the Future' program in Africa. Returning to Cairo in 1963, he moved to Darb al-Labbana, near the Citadel, where he lived and worked for the rest of his life. He also did public speaking and private consulting. He left his first major international position, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston, in 1969 to complete multiple trips per year as a leading critical member of the architectural profession. His authoritative book on Gourna, published in a limited edition in 1969, became even more influential in 1973 when it gained a new English title, 'Architecture for the Poor'. His participation in the first U.N. Habitat conference in 1976 in Vancouver which was followed shortly by two events that significantly shaped the rest of his activities. He began to serve on the steering committee for the nascent Aga Khan Award for Architecture and he founded and set guiding principles for his Institute of Appropriate Technology.In 1980, he was awarded the Balzan Prize for Architecture and Urban Planning and the Right Livelihood Award. He held several government positions and died in Cairo in 1989.

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