Saturday, 8 June 2013

Housing for secretaries and tomb raiders - FT.com

A very interesting article about the Hassan Fathy village about 1 mile from my flats.

Housing for secretaries and tomb raiders - FT.com: Financial Times


New Gourna was begun near Luxor in 1946, with Egypt then still effectively under British rule. It was designed by one of the greatest architects of the modern era, Hassan Fathy (1900-89), to rehouse a community of light-fingered amateur archaeologists who had been stealthily stripping Luxor’s tombs of their treasures.

Wary of losing their livelihoods, the residents – working-class people and with little interest in design – were initially reluctant to move. Fathy tried to persuade them with a new kind of architecture. Or rather, with a very old kind of architecture.

Fathy looked to the buildings in a traditional Egyptian village, an architecture of domes and courtyards, of cool arcades and thick walls sheltering shady rooms from the fierce heat. He began building not with concrete, which had become the default construction material of the age, but with mud-brick, the material used to build the first villages around the Nile at the beginning of civilisation.

When Fathy embarked on building the village there was no electricity or running water. The architect adopted the traditional Egyptian malqaf, or wind-catcher, a small chimney built on the roofs of houses to draw down a breeze into the heart of the house.

He also eschewed any ideas of modernist town planning, instead creating tight shaded alleys, giving houses small windows or no windows on south-facing walls and centring the structures around the courtyards that had traditionally formed the core of Arab houses.

The natural ventilation, the use of low-impact materials, the revival of traditional forms (particularly the beautiful domes and open-work grilles which gave even the smallest houses a sense of grandeur and symbolism) all contributed to making this a prototype in sustainable development. Its legacy lives on through the book that Fathy went on to write based on his experiments in New Gourna, Architecture for the Poor , which remains one of the great texts of 20th-century architecture.

New Gourna was not an unqualified success. The foundations proved inadequate, the mud-brick was occasionally unstable and residents altered many buildings, often for the worse. But it has survived as a real village and it continues to inspire architects across the world, especially on the fringes of developing cities.

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