Hassan fathy

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ersity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
This article investigates an important, yet unexplored aspect of Hassan Fathy’s work, namely his
1957–1961 collaboration with the prolific international firm, Doxiadis Associates. Focusing on
Fathy’s proposals for mass housing in Iraq and Pakistan, the article examines how the Egyptian
architect recast his famous 1945 project of New Gourna in a newperspective, to calibrate his
social and formal sensibilities according to Doxiadis’s scientific and developmentalist ethos. The
goal is to demonstrate that Fathy’s thought was complexly intertwined with larger mid-twentieth
century architectural debates on culture and modernity, and as such, it transcended any essentialist
discourses of identity that often appropriated his notion of vernaculararchitecture.
Hassan Fathy’s prototype for mass housing in Egypt
attracted international attention when his book
Architecture for the Poor was published in the
United States in 1973—almost three decades after
the project’s construction.
The book, which initially appeared in 1969 under the title Gourna, A
Tale of Two Villages, described the Egyptian
architect’s 1945 experiment to rehousethe inhabitants of Gourna, a village in Upper Egypt near
Luxor. Funded by the Egyptian monarchy, the
project proposed the collaboration of the architect
with local craftsmen and the buildings’ users, in
order to revive premodern traditions of building
with handmade, sun-dried mud bricks, and to
provide an alternative to mass-produced, reinforced
concrete housing projects. Fathy envisioned anew
village of mud brick houses in quaint streets and
squares that would become a prototype for economical and sanitary housing sensitive to rural
lifestyles (Figure 1). Even though it aspired to
revive peasants’ pride, regenerate the Egyptian
countryside, and provide the foundation for
national reform, the project was interrupted before
completion in 1948, and for years the Gourni
refusedto transfer to their new homes.
In his book, the French-educated architect
presented New Gourna’s failure as a sign of an
uncomprehending society, and many of his proponents would later repeat the same explanation,
blaming antagonisms between locals and the
bureaucratic establishment.
In all fairness, many
reasons for New Gourna’s failure went well beyond
the architect’s control and hadto do with government miscalculations and land use inequalities.
Nonetheless, the architect never recognized the
paternalism of his claim to restore aesthetic qualities that the locals were incapable of appreciating
and the hubris of his assumption that the villagers
would willingly relinquish their own homes for
a planned village.
Fathy also ignored the ironies
behind hishomogenizing view of ‘‘Egyptian’’
building traditions that combined formal precedents and building techniques from diverse cultural
provinces of Egypt—from the capital Cairo to the
Nubian village of Gharb Aswan. Specifically, Fathy’s
key strategy to organize the house around a courtyard drew on spatial conceptions from Cairene
residential architecture and had a very different
reception among the ruralpopulation of Gourna,
four hundred miles south of the Egyptian capital.
Not only were courtyards rare in residences in
Upper Egypt (they were seen as a luxury in an area
where agricultural land was at a premium), they
were associated with more utilitarian functions, as
places for work, washing, and raising animals—
quite distinct from the secluded and serene
outdoor places Fathyenvisioned.
Fathy’s choice to roof the houses with mud brick
domes, which drew on Nubian habits of building,
proved just as unsettling for the local population,
which associated domes with sacred spaces of
mosques and mausolea.
Rejected by the locals it was meant to benefit,
New Gourna was given new life when Fathy’s 1973
book appealed to an international audience as