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Chairman's Award: Lifetime Achievements of Hassan Fathy

Chairman's Award: Lifetime Achievements of Hassan Fathy

The first Chairman's Award was given in 1980 to Hassan Fathy, an Egyptian architect, artist and poet in acknowledgement of his lifelong commitment to architecture in the Muslim world. Early in his career he began to study the pre-industrial building systems of Egypt to understand their aesthetic qualities, to learn what they had to teach about climate control and economical construction techniques and to find ways to put them to contemporary use.

Two such systems dominated his thinking: the climatically efficient houses of Mamluk and Ottoman Cairo, ingeniously shaded and ventilated by means of their two-storey halls, mashrabiyyas and courtyards; and the indigenous mud brick construction still to be found in rural areas. The latter consists of inclined arches and vaults, built without shuttering, domes on squinches built over square rooms in a continuing spiral, semi-domed alcoves and other related forms. The urban housing forms of Cairo could not serve Fathy directly as a replicable source because of the disappearance of the building traditions that created them.

These fine old houses enriched his imagination, however, and were to become models for later large-scale work. The ancient mud brick forms, in contrast, were still being produced by rural masons unchanged. Stimulated by what he had learned, Fathy had what was then a revolutionary idea. He perceived that a connection could be made between the continuing viability of mud brick construction and the desperate need of Egypt's poor to be taught once again to build shelter for themselves.

In his lifetime he designed more than thirty projects including several villages for the poor. Experimental and unorthodox as his ideas were, more than two-thirds of his projects were either partially or completely realised. Still in use, and well cared for, are a series of modest private residences shaped by his profound understanding of vernacular design.

S H O R T   B I O G R A P H Y

First name: Hasan Last name: Fathi Born: 1900 (passed away in 1989) Gender: Male Country of Origin: Egypt

Fathy devoted himself to housing the poor in developing nations and deserves study by anyone involved in rural improvement. Fathy worked to create an indigenous environment at a minimal cost, and in so doing to improve the economy and the standard of living in rural areas. Fathy utilized ancient design methods and materials. He integrated a 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. Climatic conditions, public health considerations, and ancient craft skills also affected his design decisions. Based on the structural massing of ancient buildings, Fathy incorporated dense brick walls and traditional courtyard forms to provide passive cooling.