Vernacular Architecture – Hassan Fathy
Before his death in 1989, Hassan Fathy proved a leader and innovator in a particular focus on vernacular architecture inspired by his intention to rediscover and use the traditional materials of the desert dwelling Arab of his beloved Egypt. In his journey, he realized the importance of the spirit of culture, of community, and of the roots of Islam influence on the best sustainable architecture of the desert dwelling Muslim in the community setting. Tasked with creating the design and development of a community for several thousand displaced people from the old Gourna village Fathy incorporated the poverty of the peasant into a community plan still used as a prototype today. The displacement of the old village inhabitants arose from the fact the five hamlets of this old community lay over and around the archeologically rich Valley of the Kings and Queens of the time of the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt. From the old, Fathy created the New Gourna Village that stands decades later as one of the most influential types of vernacular architecture for desert dwellers in the sense of community, sustainable building materials, and as a cultural icon.
Reflecting on the idea of vernacular architecture from the subjective perspective as a lifelong learner the very concept draws on the intellectual, pragmatic, and of course, the emotional aspects aligned to having a passion for a creative discipline such as architecture. When approaching any noted piece of architecture considered of the vernacular school, it is important remembering this concerns architectural theory about structures erected in their most basic forms by empirical builders without any professional architectural intrusion that include primitive shelters. In this area, review of remarkable work by architectural professionals pioneering appropriate technological applications for specific areas as does Hassan Fathy the Egyptian architect working with re-establishing the more environmentally pragmatic use of traditional mud brick materials befitting hot and arid desert environments as opposed to more temperate building lay out and designs of the West.
Successfully doing this from a scholastic perspective requires thoroughly approaching this particular architect’s use of the nature of vernacular architecture in order to gain an understanding of his view in making it useful for contemporary design. Simply put, by understanding the thought process Fathy uses underpinned by the theory of vernacular architecture then the better to understand his view in the design he creates. Primary to this approach from an academic foundation remains focused on research, identification, and use of the literature as a guide in this process. Herein, referring to specific literature for this purpose looks to “conclusion as to a general consensus on the subject.”
It was found that the explanation of Camille Wells had the best foundation. Wells divides the approaches to understanding vernacular architecture into two categories: - how architecture is used and changes with time due to shifting functional needs- how architecture reinforces certain social constructs. These categories were used as a guide and an explanation was sought within their boundaries. [Sic]
The focus of this scholastic investigation of the type of sustainable vernacular architecture Fathy designs incorporating the ancient use of mud brick materials incorporates the New Gourna Village Conservation and Community project “as a testament to Fathy’s vision for a thriving community and to the shared hope for its future.” As a scholastic research project, the intention of using a building study such as the New Gourna Village purposefully incorporates the cultural context of the people living in this community located on the West Bank of the Nile River in Luxor, Egypt. In addition, researching, analysing, and incorporating the constructional and the formal architectural aspects of the influences still used today of Fathy developing this modern example of ancient style building materials as well as the importance of incorporating design and function connecting to the environmental features of the desert lifestyle for sustainability proves a perfect example of vernacular architecture. Consequently, over a half century ago, “in 1948, Egyptian architect Fathy ceased work on New Gourna.”
However, as the World Monument Fund (WMF) explains:
His vision Built to house residents of Old Gourna who lived amid the Theban Necropolis, New Gourna was a novel community commissioned by the Egyptian Department of Antiquities in the sugarcane fields below the concentration of tombs. At New Gourna, Fathy pedestaled his vision of vernacular building traditions and promoted precise forms and materials he had seen utilized in rural Egypt. Intended as a model public housing project and perhaps the codification of a national style, the mud brick, domed dwellings gained international attention and are today considered early experiments with appropriate technology and sustainable architectural systems. Fathy also insisted on the construction of schools—one for boys and one for girls—as well as a mosque, a khan, and a souk within the village. Although the boys school no longer exists in its original form (the girls school was never built), New Gourna remains a place strongly rooted in the social principles set forth in Fathy’s plan: access to education, commerce, religion. [Sic]
Today, this experimental and small village continues drawing global interest and in 2010 became a nominee of the World Monuments Watch as a reaction to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) spearheading its own initiative safeguarding the village. Collaborations between the Luxor Governorate, the WMF, and UNESCO initiated a study for building understanding about the specific relationship of the inhabitants with the structures in New Gourna, thus identifying needs existing in today’s community life there as well as engaging its residents in sustaining conservation efforts prolonging the life of the construction there.
`Spurring the desire and intentions of the following scholastic research and analysis focused on the structures found in this community directly resulting from Fathy’s vernacular architectural design, lay in the fact its completion stays true to the vison driving the innovative architect. Clearly educational processes remain vital to sustaining this community’s village life ad continues as a source of pride to its inhabitant that so fittingly link with the directives framing this academic learning project. In doing so, the educational schema of the collaborative efforts of the WMF, UNESCO, and the Luxor Governate “should serve as a central element in the future of New Gourna.”
Further, in staying with the influence of Fathy, the collaborative research findings provide this scholastic investigation insight about the construction of New Gourna representative of vernacular architecture because of the WTF report cited here. This includes reporting on the formulation of communication and sharing created and active networking among its residents as fundamental to the cultural values of the people located on this ancient site along the Nile River clearly with reinforcement through familial connections to the older Gourna.
It is through an environment of safety and tranquillity projected by this village that makes parents have, trust the welfare of their children roaming and playing throughout the community. This ambience exists to the extent numerous residents sleep outdoors on hot evenings with the vernacular architectural design typically offering a flat roof specific to that ancient tradition in this style of housing in the desert lifestyle. Culturally, concerns about known improvements needed in this community align to the cultural practices of the people gathering at the mosque in New Gourna in the evening. Improved housing conditions are a primary concern of the community “original Fathy structure in New Gourna.”
Understanding how attachments create very strong feeling of pride within the community also associate to the Fathy vernacular architectural technique imbued in the New Gourna design. “While many modifications have been made by residents to the original fabric, these have been borne out of necessity with the best of intentions, and with limited financial and information resources. In addition many individual Fathy buildings replaced and renovated in response to social and environmental conditions, the assessment findings support the idea that the cultural landscape of New Gourna today is very much a product of Hassan Fathy”
Fathy vernacular architectural “concern for, and puzzlement over, intangible forces that serve to shape and re-shape tangible spaces” exists when looking at the vestiges of this 65-year old experimental community. It continues reflecting social idealism, graceful architecture, and the near impossible ability imagining it whole as it looked in 1948 if for nothing more than in reverence to the remarkable man and his legacy. However, the changes in New Gourna reflect a precise intention of Fathy of how the “process of evolution (validating and perpetuating) Fathy’s principles of community empowerment and sustainability.”
Consequently, the WMF conservation efforts in New Gourna looks at both a problematic enterprise riddled with complicated requirements for balancing the numerous interests as well as the critical participation of so many stakeholders. Nonetheless, the primary stewardship focused on the sustainability efforts in New Gourna prove its residents are the cornerstone in the preservation of Fathy’s intended and successful core values of New Gourna extending well beyond both his design and the community fabric created by its people. Fathy’s ideals show in the continued vibrancy of this close-knit community he designed through his perception and vivid understanding of the cultural framework of the people of this part of the world. It remains reflected in the dimensions of urban intimacy he envisioned by the close-knit community found everywhere in this village today. This Fathy vision originally meant and continues as an ideal of the children of New Gourna having access to education and with the facilitation of community networking, and engagement among its citizens as “were codified in his innovative, mixed use plan. These elements remain as (linchpins) of New Gourna’s physical and social foundation, and likewise can serve as tools for forging common ground for its future.”
As intended with the following scholastic process based on the thesis presented here, it is a subjective developmental method toward understanding and intellectually engaging with the theory of vernacular architecture and therefore looks at further investigation and analysis Fathy’s vision as presented in the structures of New Gourna. Specific to the methodology of this academic project meta-research using existing literature as well as recorded images and photographs of the structures of the New Gourna village provide the means for this study. The following scholastic endeavour includes sections on the historical aspects of vernacular architectural theory, study of Fathy explaining his perception of villages, the influence of the cultural past on design, function, and sustainability. As intended this is an academic exercise creating and developing the following exhibiting understanding of spatial character, detail, and material used based on ancient cultural traditions. Therefore, the following exploration and assessment of the New Gourna community as a prime example of a vernacular architectural design created by the ground-breaking work of Hassan Fathy provides the framework of this project. This underpins this thesis defining how time, interplay, reception, and historical understanding of architecture empirical examination of the physical records of these building existing today in photos and other visual learning tools as a legacy that continues influencing construction today toward sustainability in the geographical regions he meant this type of construction.
A Look at Fathy’s Original Vision
Fathy developed his planning theory implementing his ideas into construction of the New Gourna experimental community based on the thriving village of five hamlets of Old Gourna erected along the hills of the West Bank location of Luxor, Egypt, on Thebe’s ancient cemetery. Understanding the Fathy influence requires understanding its direct departure from Western architectural precepts. For the layperson, this creates a sense of wonderment of what does this mean. This must have clarification to proceed to the Fathy view of sustainability in his vernacular architectural vision as exemplified in New Gourna.
Fathy versus Western
Hassan Fathy remains known as a part of those few modern architects interpreting the idea of rediscovering masses and forms from traditional Islamic housing creating living environments making the quality of life especially better for the poor. In fact, this Egyptian architect, master builder, and visionary broke from the ideals of modern architecture in a tireless focus on providing Third World people with sustainable communities fitting their culture and their frugal realties for a quality life in their housing nonetheless.
In this search, identification, understanding, and clearly one with a renaissance attitude for re-establishing a viable sense of vernacular architectural design in the quest, Fathy looked at modern Cairo and saw it and other modern Egyptian cities “as if they were a group of people who do not pla
y music well yet still insisted on forming a band.” Consequently, with the view Fathy decided, “The architecture of Cairo should match its cultural and technological milieu exactly as had happened at certain point in history.”
Breaking away from the influence of technological advancements in architecture underpinning Western ideology, Fathy insisted restoration of traditional cultural values connected to the theoretical underpinnings of vernacular architecture soon found his peers among architectural professionals as well as critics regarding his perspective and him as a romantic living in his own world. This followed him for forty years with such noteworthy global figures as Prince Charles recognizing this and remarking, how the vision of Fathy espousing traditional Islamic architecture endured bitter and even malic filled criticism by Western views. This was also the view of numerous academicians voicing their belief Fathy seemed “out of tune with the prosperous economies and internationalism of large cities and suggest that it is only appropriate to development in rural areas.”
Fathy defined as well as described the benefits of returning to the historical framework of the traditional desert dwellings and the later influence of Islam on the community complex with the mosque serving as the focal point of residents networking and communicating. Thus, understanding the Fathy process of maintaining traditional vernacular architecture of the desert lifestyle, recreating, and providing a sustainable living complex and the growing demand his influence has on Islamic communities. In doing so, the New Gourna complex today shows how returning a more architecturally focused environmentally conscientious approach to housing and community structures connected traditional Islamic, social, and cultural, principles indeed creates a sustainable quality of life lifestyle for its residents. The arid location of the New Gourna complex contains the guidance Fathy held in his vision to the environmental, social beliefs, and values as prescribed by the religious precepts of Islam. The influence of Fathy grew in the fundamental architectural practices in Arabic-Islamic patterns where people settled and continues today. These settlements reflect the values and belief of the Islamic people as expressed in the New Gourna village again with the mosque providing the central building where the residents gather not only for their religious practices but also, for the important communication networking any active community globally practice as an organized settlement.
Clearly, Fathy’s vision understood the failure of Western architectural influence for urban design as well as building practices as he looked at not only Cairo but again on other Egyptian urban construction for nearly half a century. His concern was not only focused on they lack of the traditional constructs of Islamic influences but the even more pragmatic effect the loss of this vernacular architecture meant to the inhabitants living in the unforgiving climatic factors of the arid region. It was the traditional building design and construction exhibiting an intentional awareness as well as a proactive response to climatic realties created by the heat of the region on human living conditions that drew Fathy to the vernacular architectural benefits. Drawn to the older and more traditional Arabic-Islamic architecture that intentionally reflected conscientious design incorporating Islamic cultural principles as well as in the construction characteristics proves the principles of vernacular architecture held so solemnly in contrast to the Western types political influences on Egyptian urban settings produced as well as other Arab nations.
Strength in the social bonds prescribed by the fundamental teachings of The Prophet Muhammad of Islam create the cultural principles of the ancient traditional vernacular architecture reflected in the sensitivity of the climate and use of particular materials produce the typology of the construction of both family domiciles and the collective of a community. Sustainability remains the underpinnings of the Fathy vernacular architectural philosophy. His vision projects the traditional housing with more efficient wear against the overpowering heat of the African desert of Egypt as well as his influence on such modern renovations back to the essentials promoted by the Fathy architectural precepts in places like Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Like Riyadh urban settings built after the oil boon Cairo, the density of Riyadh’s urban settings typifies the Western influence where human activity stays minimized. This occurs structures and placement of these buildings next to wide streets leaving everything and everyone there vulnerable to the debilitating summer heat for (refer to Figure 1) in contrast to Fathy’s design protecting the inhabitants (refer to Figure 2).
The Practical Experiment of the Village of Gourna
The apex of the evolution of the vernacular architectural vision developed by Fathy, from work he completed between came in 1945-1957 took place with the design and construction of the New Gourna village between 1945-1948 intended for replacing the original one. It was in this project Fathy “which he experimented with and tested his traditional forms and method of construction. The village of Gourna as discussed earlier resides on the ancient site of Thebes across from Luxor on the North bank of the Nile River located in southern Egypt. The areas in the northern section known as the Valley of the Kings and to the south the Valley of the Queens where the ancient burial tombs of the Nobles also exist on the hillside are Egypt's historical burial sites of the ancient times. Old Gourna village sits on these tombs along with nearly 7,000 peasant homes where people live that also occupy the area on or around the historical tombs. Consequently, “The economy of this community was mainly based on the (illegal) mining of these tombs and the selling of their priceless contents.”
Figure 1: Downtown Cairo – Parisian influence on the architecture wide streets – open to the sun.
Figure 2: The intentional closed areas for pedestrians away from direct sun shown in Fathy’s design.
The old Gourna village and the thousands of other people living in this site “presented a major problem for the* preservation and scientific investigation of these major archaeological sites. Continuous tomb robbing had led the Department of Antiquities to take positive action to overcome the problem of Gourna.” As a result, the Department of Antiquities petitioned the government with the need to move the inhabitants so the ongoing scientific work continued with excavation of the ancient tombs. After a designated government commission reviewed the situation and studied all avenues, the final decision looked at the entire population removed to a newly constructed village or several accommodating the villagers. Through a series of events aligned to growing respect for the work completed by Fathy at this time, the work designing and building New Gourna offered Fathy and accepted by the architect.
Approaching the task for designing and constructing the New Gourna village, Fathy incorporated to specific perspectives. First, he considered the issues connected to the socio-economic realities of the population demographics as well as the sustained health of the group as a community. His other perspective concerned the architectural view of erecting life-style appropriate housing for the intended occupants. “Despite Fathy's good intentions and enormous effort over three years to realise this project, it did not come to fruition and the village was only partially built.” Obstacles the architect encountered appear in his Architecture for the Poor where he describes his frustrations he encountered from both the authorities and from the deposed villagers the new village meant to provide homes.
Materials Build the Village
Fathy learned how the poor peasant of Egypt with an acre of land in his name lived in a house he made himself. On the other hand, there were landowners of 100 acres or more without the funds to build a house and this put the architect imagination at work and helped form his philosophical view of the vernacular architecture he developed.
The architect’s own words describe his epiphany:
(I saw) the peasant built his house out of mud, or mud bricks, which he dug out of the ground and dried in the sun. And here, in every hovel and tumbledown hut in Egypt, was the answer to my problem. Here, for years, for centuries, the peasant had been wisely and quietly exploiting the obvious building material, while we, with our modern school-learned ideas, never dreamed of using such a ludicrous substance as mud for so serious a creation as a house. But why not? Certainly, the peasant’s houses might be cramped, dark, dirty, and inconvenient, but this was no fault of the mud brick. There was nothing that could not be put right by good design and a broom. Why not use this heaven sent material for our country houses? And why not, indeed, make the peasants’ own houses better? Why should there be any difference between a peasant’s house and a landowner’s? Build both of mud brick, design both well, and both could afford their owners beauty and comfort. [Sic]
Social Consciousness about the Poor
Fathy remained passionate about his views of the unjust treatment of poor people by the world but particularly so about his native Egypt. This again, as discussed, formed his philosophical drive in the vernacular architecture he put into his designs and the materials he advocated for sustainable living. His vision incorporating the ancient aesthetic that aligned so pragmatically to the use of materials addressing climate issues, the layout of the community fitting into the culture and social precepts of the Islamic community, and his conviction for using them as revealed in the buildings in New Guarua.
The story behind the loss of the skills by Egyptians for making traditional housing and the materials used is a 19th century view of the disposed poor as inferior. After appropriating fertile Egyptian lands from the long-held holdings of the owners and making them tax-paying renters, Ottoman Khedive Mohamed Ali remains the direct cause of the importation of western industrial and economic systems the cause of much of the traditions of the Egyptian building lost. “In rural areas traditional buildings ceased, methods were lost but, more critically, these people were disoriented by the loss of their very cultural identity.”
Again, Fathy describes the event:
It was a new world for me, a whole village of spacious, lovely, 1-2 clean, and harmonious houses each more beautiful than the next. There was nothing else like it in Egypt; a village from some dream country, perhaps from a Hoggar hidden in the heart of the Great Sahara—whose architecture had been preserved for centuries un-contaminated by foreign influences, from Atlantis itself it could have been. Not a trace of the miserly huddle of the usual Egyptian village, but house after house, tall, easy, roofed cleanly with a brick vault, each house decorated individually and exquisitely around the doorway with claustrawork— moldings and tracery in mud. I realized that I was looking at the living survivor of traditional Egyptian architecture, at a way of building that was a natural growth in the landscape, as much a part of it as the dom-palm tree of the district. It was like a vision of architecture before the Fall: before money, industry, greed, and snobbery had severed architecture from its true roots in nature. [Sic]
A Message of Continuity
Redressing poverty remained a focus in Fathy’s work as a community organizer directing his vernacular architectural purpose. His view of continuity meant getting back to the soil of Egypt and empowering people building their own sustainable homes and communities. This incorporated rediscovery of mud roofing His view remained “that the concrete housing solution was not only inhumane but also costly since it requires skilled labor, expensive equipment and industrial materials produced abroad.” [Sic] Fathy training learned at Cairo’s Higher School of Engineering resolved designing decent housing made from local available mud and straw bricks. In doing so, he tested them for their most durable expectation. Engaging the technical input of soil mechanic engineers, choosing the sun baked mud brick after viewing the 3,400 year-old Ptolemaic era granaries of mud brick still flaunting wide vaults “with splendid assurance and style.” From the excursion taking him to the Nubian village he rediscovered the mud brick making technique he needed for building clean brick vaulted ceilings as wide as 12 feet and two stories high. The prime example of this in New Gourna is the mosque (see Figure 3).
Figure 3: New Gourna mosque vaulted ceil
The Mud Brick Recipe
The solution was simpler than a drawing board Fathy found all he had to do was look at the history of Egypt. He found the resolution for erecting a vaulted ceiling required constructing the back or kick wall of the house first so it was higher than the final roof level. The next step meant tracing mud mortar into the wall at the base of the catenary parabola with the first adobe brick laid at an incline against the wall thus, providing essential support with placement of the next two bricks. This same process followed until all the bricks completing the arch assembled with the uppermost last brick placed horizontally followed with interstices filled with dry mud chips packed in with wet mortar. The method continues building onto the arch by use of a trowel with hammer handle and a simple adze worked by two masons taking over a day and a half for completing a 20-foot room.
This roof is both earthquake resistant to falling and keeps the room climatically comfortable. “The discovery changed Fathy’s life. The miraculous simplicity of the ancient methods meant that Fathy could now restitute to the peasants the skill which their ancestors had refined over generations not as a conscious science but as a craft that grew out of their need.” [Sic] Mud bricks proved the method of building Fathy remained loyal not only because of its durable eminence, but also because of its ability maintaining comfortable interior temperature with little difference than 3 to 4 degrees difference over a 24-hour period. In addition, the remarkable fact remains one-third of the inhabitants of the global community live in earthen made houses.
The Design and the Method
Designing mud brick houses also led the eco-friendly architect Fathy developing a mutual interchange in the method he used in building the New Gourna community. Mud dug for making bricks came from locations where the planning meant for making a pond. This mud mixture includes vegetation of straw, leave, or grass giving strength to the material. Using this process called stabilizing the mud is a methodology completely trustworthy for any soil mechanics engineer found over the world where a lack of traditionally trained builders exists. After erecting the walls and roof using the mud brick material, the structural engineer gauges their strength.
Fathy architect-builder vision turned reality found a grass-roots team of twenty peasants have the ability of building dwellings such as those he erected at New Gourna (see Figure 4) using this method he envisioned typically encircling the designated public service structures such as the mosque (see Figure 5) found at New Gourna. “In Fathy’s experience, twenty can build twenty houses faster, better and more happily than one person building a single house.”
Figure 4: Original plans of the New Gourna Village.
Figure 5: Plans for the mosque at New Gourna.
Vernacular Architecture and Natural Energy at New Gourna
Fathy wrote how natural environment as a foundation for creating vernacular architecture using natural energy as he planned and built at New Gourna as an answer to the hot arid and the warm humid zone found in Egypt. He explains two of the main problems architects designing for locations such at the New Gourna Village face ensuing protection from the heat and at the same time provide adequate cooling systems for the inhabitants. While the physiological characteristics of the climate are one characteristics construction produces microclimatic changes. As discussed previously, materials used in construction of New Gourna Village also looked at the thickness of the walls in respect to conducting exterior heat and reflecting heat.
Underpinning the philosophy prodding Fathy and his vernacular architectural principles of sustainability applied in the construction of New Gourna Village his view of modern science ability developing human capabilities using natural sources of energy went beyond that achieved in vernacular architecture. Accordingly, he viewed that should technology and science succeed revitalising architecture using comprehensive comparison of the traditional structures to the new systematically, then those principles producing the solutions must have the rightful respect it deserves. He further asserted this as the sole manner for surpassing the ecological and human equality provided by the traditional architecture achieves in the hot arid regions globally. He further believed in doing so this effort proved enriching both human thought and culture.
In the example of New Gourna “Fathy had successfully incorporated in his architecture vernacular devices which considerably enhance(d) thermal comfort by lowering temperatures indoors and outdoors— (as) appropriate technologies which had disappeared from fashion for being considered arcane and pejoratively indigenous.” Fathy’s value of tradition in architecture for its most appropriate accommodation of human comfort was never for its own sake. “Prince Charles of England, citing Fathy’s ability to provide architecture of great beauty regardless of the clients’ means, praises him as a traditional architect.
Consequential to the tradition of vernacular architecture so appreciated and emulated in the design and construction of New Gourna Village, Fathy indeed, used the ideology as a tool that contributes to the continuation process – of sustainability of the vernacular architectural process as well.
He had a pudeur, a native restraint guarding from hubris, and ferocity against anachronism. If tradition, like technology, can be placed at the service of the human being instead of the reverse, so would he use elegant and effective vernacular solutions for the greater psychic and physical comfort of his clients. [Sic]
Fathy also accomplished the re-introduction of the traditional carved wooden window screen into his design at New Gourna Village called the mushrabiya (see Figure 6) as well as the
Figure 6: Mushrabiya carved wooden window at New Gourna Village. Figure 7: Claustra
claustra (see Figure 7 above) openwork partition made of masonry or wood that catches and “carries cooling breezes from room to room—a gesture both respectful to the culture he shared with the fellahin, and a satisfying thumbing of the nose to the Europeanized advocates of high-tech air-conditioning in costly concrete construction.”
The inner courtyard of a house is the most efficient air conditioner for it traps the cold of desert night air, releasing it gradually during the day to adjoining rooms through in-built claustra. And if the walls are thick and of adobe, they too store the night’s coolness, and gain heat slowly during the day, yielding the higher temperature many hours later, when it is needed. Plantings purify the air further, protecting dwellers behind courtyard walls from the foul-smelling fumes of car-infested streets.
Today, the use of the mushrabiya exists from Morocco to Pakistan for its ability allowing moisturizing humidity, the wind, and air entering through the openings as it still does in the buildings designed and constructed by Fathy in New Gourna Village. Typically made of wood, the mushrbiya has organic value or hygrometric characteristic for absorbing humidity from the air, when the mushratbiya heats from sunlight hitting its surface. The humidity may release into any of the air possibly flowing through the featured spaces in the piece. Built into structures located where intense sunrays pound on the environment, the mushratbiya is then more effective as a shaded window keeping out the harsh sunlight and occurs because , “As light falls on a plane surface it bounces at right angles, but when it touches curved surfaces it diffuses with splendid subtlety into a fuzziness of radial reflections.”
Fathy created mushratbiya with interstices narrowed at the eye level in a room mindful of not dazzling the eye with too much light, and compensating for more light with larger openings found just under the ceiling level of the wall placed in the buildings at New Gourna Village. The smallest of the designed interstices show at the bottom where air entering narrower passages at a faster rate creates a cooling rush -- the Venturi principle.
The Community and the Culture
Creating a culturally indicative community in his design of the New Gourna Village as with other Arab housing designs Fathy considered the ways his designs expressed culture aligned to the environmental forces molded into the lifestyle of desert-dwelling people. Habits and life outlook of the Arab people come from living in the desert shaping their culture as a simple, hospitality led lifestyle including their love of mathematics and from the stars above them astronomy. Fathy understood that the life Arab people experience living in the desert causes bitter experiences as the surface of the earth’s landscape become the cruel enemy for the Arab and appears under the sun glaring, burning ,and barren, giving no comfort as they open their houses to nature at the very ground level. [Sic]
The kindlier nature of the deserts teaches the Arab desert dweller the sky remains pure, it is clean, and holds promises of cooling, life-giving water from the clouds where the sky is truly the home of God. Arabs found in adapting to a settled life they applied architectural metaphors aligned to their cosmology where the sky is the found in the building as reflected in the architecture of the focus of this scholastic discourse in the community private and public buildings of New Gourna Village.
Other symbolism of the village buildings becomes a universe microcosm with metaphors extending to include eight sides found on the octagon supporting the dome symbolizing the sky (again) the home of God. These eight sides represent the eight archangels holding up the holiest of most soothing face of God’s gift of nature and understandably make the Arabs want this as part of their own dwelling. To do this requires making this idea the courtyard providing the owner of the home a personal piece of the sky. Clearly, Fathy loved his people and his beloved Egypt. His delight in observing them change in the environment of the safe and beautiful vernacular architecture they found around them at New Gourna Village also provided them the spiritual tradition of community. At the same time, Fathy provided them once again their disrupted sense of cultural identity. In doing so, Fathy the innovator also accomplished presenting his own voice put into the very soil and the historical presence of his beloved Egypt.
No doubt, the work Fathy accomplished in his life, and with the challenges, he faced in designing and building the New Gourus Village him a glowing accomplishment amid the suffering loss, betrayal, opposition, and ridicule as discussed earlier. His unabashed and extraordinary architectural success in staying to the vision of vernacular architectural philosophy, design, and practice put into the New Gourna Village remains the testament of his advocacy for mud brick materials over the Western ideology of concrete and steel. “His relationship with the architectural establishment inside Egypt was just as frustrating, his ideals dismissed as romantic, anachronistic, controversial, irrelevant, or non-lucrative.”
Literature and history show Fathy was prolific in his thinking, teaching, and writing keeping about him the wit and “endearing terms, the vision that stayed with him until the end. He had character, and many followers.” Today, also briefly discussed earlier, his legacy, his influence continues taking shape as the Middle East with a return to the traditional desert materials and community designs influenced by Islamic precepts.
This is evident in places like Saudi Arabia where the rulers now embrace the ideals of his vernacular architectural vision so wonderfully expressed for all to see today in the village at New Gourus take to heart and reshape the disastrous Western architectural influence on the urban areas of cities like Riyadh. “Today’s cataclysms in the Middle East and beyond, the misery before his eyes, all enhance the likelihood that his heirs will apply his teaching. “His thought, experience and spirit constitute a major international resource.” [Sic]
Today, the relevancy of the work left to the world by Fathy is never stronger. The overt interest and the WMF focus on the long neglected New Gourus Village remain a testament to the legacy of his work. The return to link to the Islamic ideals Fathy embraced and put into his philosophy of creating a community shows in the architecture providing privacy and as importantly reducing thermal inflictions on the residents. Again, as exhibited in Riyadh embracing a return to the tradition it left behind with the oil boon and welcoming the unrealistic applications of Western architecture in its urban enclaves, is the intentional constructs of its streets. The reawakening to the influence of Fathy and Islamic tenets about the attention to the social and cultural lives of the Muslims living within their borders as connectors for people moving from one place to another yet, also functioning as social gathering paths where homeowner live. This is the example Fathy provided all desert dwellers in his design and building the New Gourna Village.
The function of the shaded and cooled residential spaces protecting the residents of the community shows in the design as a worthwhile function copied in Riyadh so the community has the ability escaping the direct sunlight and the source of the intense heat as the vernacular architectural design for sustaining a comfortable existence proves successful in Fathy’s New Gourna Village. In a sense, it is the prototype for desert urban area re-connecting to their traditions in correcting the urban living conditions of his people.
Fathy provides how the relationship of the building to the street aligns the property of private dwellings and other buildings thus creating the needed shade for the residents of the community from the burning sun. Houses therefore commonly built two and three stories high as provided in the example of his village design prove a natural means for shading when combined with narrow streets creating a shadowy corridor and the elimination of the radiating heat of the sun during the highest impact of the sun.
Fathy in his own words describes Gourus:
Thus, although Gourus has nothing of the colorful and imposing architecture of Nubia to show, nor perhaps the same pride in really beautiful craftsmanship, yet there are occasional buildings that show a certain purity of form, that are at least free from the artistic corruption that thickens about all village fife as one proceeds northward. No people anywhere is entirely devoid of artistic creativeness. However repressed by circumstances, this creativeness will always show through somewhere. In Gourus it is not so much in their houses, where they are open to bad influences, but in their various little domestic constructions that the villagers allow themselves to mold the most individual and beautiful plastic forms. [Sic[
He recalls the old village where the children slept at night safe from the sting of scorpions and a monumental and imposing pigeon towers awash with their own type of dignity prove simple, beautiful, yet with grandeur of their own. Fathy describes the beauty of a peasant in his house. Yet he describes these houses as the poorest in the old village with their owners now forced by their inherent poverty into the genuineness of the design.
Because they could afford in their houses neither the rather tasteless elaborations that their richer neighbors affected, nor the help of a paid builder, they had to contrive every part of their dwelling themselves. Thus the plan of a room or the line of a wall would not be a dull, square, measured thing but a sensitively molded shape, like a pot. In many of these very poor houses, if one can see past the incidental mess and dirt, the lines of the building present an instructive lesson in architecture.[Sic]
Fathy sees no “taint of architectural snobbery” and views no one straining on a climb for a higher status in the social set. He sees each person continue in a forward manner adapting materials more in tune to the peasant way of life. Each detail reflecting this adaptation in the process of building the community because this is what the peasant wanted and this is how he wanted it reflected in the size and shape most convenient in the building of the community so each detail shows no intention of impressing anyone else. He tells how he sees the result as an impressive fact. “The house has the quiet self-sufficiency of any artifact produced by a competent professional. This particular kind of plasticity and informality cannot be reproduced from a drawing board.”
The old village conceived as grew in the hands of the builders as if using modeling clay and the idea a flat drawing with no specific part in the process. Therefore, such a house or building shows the builder owned it and with every curve and irregularity, a reflection of his personality showed the world. Consequently, this very personal stamp meant this building could exist nowhere else except in this village because the process of doing so is both unsophisticated and leisurely. Thus, when the New Gourus Village project launched the entire process of building juxtaposes into an entirely different level of organization and professionally led consciousness of a timetable.
Therefore, with this type of jump from a peasant modeling a house to the process of engineering one then a natural state within the evolution of the building of the new village created a natural increase in the status of the wealth of the village. Holding this change in process occurs naturally, then the likelihood of it becoming a tradition is more assured. Therefore, the process in the old village was never a task of creating tradition the peasants should have, because
“(Even) if it were possible to do for a man what he must do for himself, to get inside his skin, to be his artistic conscience for him, such presumption would destroy his artistic initiative and integrity and defeat its own end.”
Nonetheless, Fathy viewed that it as a situation where he was not able to just “ignore all that the (old) Gournis had done, erase every vestige of their own creativeness, and plump down my own designs on the site thus cleared of embarrassments. The fact stood that Fathy intended incorporating as much of the traditional style of construction he saw in the old village needed used in the design and construction of the new village thus imbuing the spirit of the old into the new designs. In this, he found specific construction easily melded ad this greatly assisted from the onset as a provisional keynote in the developing design of the new village.
. Specific to the pigeon towers found in the old village, was how they exemplified an originality of spontaneity of the peasant kind and not anything suggested and found anywhere else. They actually dictated their oneness with the taste of the generations of villagers showing their own individual inventiveness answe4ring the problem of a way for keeping the pigeons. The fact remained with this type of structure it lacked any sense of strain within the setting of the new village design, and remained as right in this moment as it did yesterday and as well as tomorrow. At the same time, Fathy writes, “we found a very interesting maziara in the old village. A maziara is the place that holds the water jar called zeer, and in this case it took the form of a vault that shaded the water jar from the sun, a somewhat crude arrangement, but quite pretty.”
As shown in the earlier Figure 7, the vault in the new village supporting the staircase provided a suitable situation with more than adequate shade. Fathy describes how they accomplished the completion of the design with the addition of the cluastra by creating “a kind of mud brick mushrabiya—to act as a natural air filter.” In addition, Fathy also describes how they accomplished preserving the old Gournua tradition in the mosque with incorporating the old mosque using the external staircase changing it from a straight one to one slanting up and to the minaret forming the style dating from the earliest time of Islam and still found in both Nubia and Upper Egypt. The new village mosque needed made larger because it intended serving the several thousand population concentrated from the several hamlets of the old village into the single community of the new village. Nonetheless, adapting the old style was worth the effort so the external staircase worked when fit to scale to the larger size of the new village mosque.
In conclusion as posited in the introduction in the thesis, the intention of this academic investigation meant defining how time, interplay, reception, and historical understanding of architecture needed in the construction of the New Gourna Village designed by Fathy. In doing so, this incorporated an empirical examination of the physical records of existing buildings today exhibited in photos and other visual learning tools showing the legacy that continues influencing construction today toward sustainability in the geographically arid and hot regions he meant this type of construction fit the best. The details of the sections provided a scholastic journey by means of meta-research of the existing literature and proved the adeptness of the philosophy of the vernacular architectural style of Fathy in creating the New Gourus Village keeping the sentimental value of the old by restoring the spirit of the old into the new.
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