Architecture for the Poor: An Experiment in Rural Egypt
**********************************I am a retired architect who is mostly estranged from the mythologies of the profession as they are so ritualistically observed by its devout practitioners here in North America. After 40 years of practice, I see little to admire in the profession in the 20th century, and so far, the 21st century.However, there are a very few very remarkable exceptions to that general rule. The late Hassan Fathy is certainly one of those beacons shining through the darkness of 20th century architectural conceits.Hassan Fathy was an Egyptian architect who produced most all of his work for construction in adobe, that almost timeless material that can be dated back more than 10,000 years in the Old World and very likely as well in the New World. For the uninitiated, adobe is a building material made from mud sometimes mixed with organic materials such as straw and then dried in the sun until hard enough to use for the construction of houses, churches, temples, food warehouses, etc.,etc. Adobe is the traditional building material of Egypt for those who are not pharaohs, the wealthy, the colonialists, Governments, nor large corporations. Adobe has always been the material for the common folks. Adobe is also the traditional building material of New Mexico, my home now.American and European architects are “revered” at best. Some like to perceive themselves as worshiped. I know of none who are loved by the everyday people. I am only an American, whose knowledge of the Muslim world is very limited. But I have known, and do know, a small number of Muslim people. But I have yet to meet a Muslim, from any country, who not only knows of Hassan Fathy, but also who does not love his work—from their hearts. This is not a response to an architect's work that I am accustomed to seeing.This book, "The Architecture for the Poor", is the true history of an Egyptian village that stood in the path of Lake Nasser, created by the Aswan High Dam, built in the mid 20th century along the Nile River at President Abdel Nasser’s behest, using large amount of money from the Soviet Union. This was a major project of the Cold War; and a very, very large political project for Egyptian President Nasser.This traditional Egyptian adobe village, Gourna or Al Gourna, was scheduled to be evacuated and re-built, at Government expense, along with a good number of other traditional Egyptian villages before the waters of Lake Nasser drowned them permanently. The villagers were to be re-housed in Soviet-styled "modern" housing. For an American to understand Soviet-styled housing, think American urban "Public Housing Projects" of the mid-50's.A number of these villagers and the architect Hassan Fathy approached the Egyptian Government and requested to know the budget of the Housing Project for their village. They were, amazingly, told the amount.So Hassan Fathey, along with the villagers, designed a new village to be built completely out of the adobe mud at the proposed village site, to be made by the villagers, and the entire new village to be built along traditional village planning principles, established by the villagers themselves. This new village(town actually in modern terms of size) was to be built by the labor of the villagers themselves. No wood or modern materials were to be used, other than sanitary running water. All roofs and second floor construction was to be done with traditional adobe dome and barrel-vault construction.Hassan Fathey used his experience to develop a new budget, figuring in the lower costs of villager-donated labor into their own homes as well as local traditional materials. Even with generous cost-overun estimates, the new budget was significantly less that the cost of the originally planned Soviet concrete Housing Project nightmares.The now-impressed Egyptian Government allocated the money; and the villagers built themselves a new adobe village, mostly as designed by Hassan Fathy and the villagers themselves.The village is a jewel in the desert. The villagers built themselves their own village paradise.It features, private courtyards, numerous shaded public arcades and plazas, and all the features of a centuries-old traditional Egyptian village. Photos are included in the book. This all occurred in the 1950's, I think.This book helped establish my own architectural predisposition--out of sync with mainstream North America. For better or for worse.As a postscript, I would like to say that I have been blessed to have actually met Dr. Hassan Fathy in 1982 and shake his hand.