Contemporary Architecture

Hassan Fathy – New Gourna Village


  • Born to a wealthy family on the 23 March 1900 in Alexandria, Egypt.
  • He moved to Cairo with his family when he was eight years old, and settled in Helwan.
  • He was talented in drawing which was to stand him in good stead when he joined the King Fuad I University (presently Cairo University) to study architecture.
  • In 1930 he was appointed as instructor at the Faculty of Fine Arts where he remained until 1946. In 1953 he became Head of the Architecture Department.
  • He was appointed Director of the Educational Buildings Department of the Ministry of Education between 1949 and 1952.
  • Amongst his awards are : The Aga Khan Award for Architecture Chairman’s Award (1980), Balzan Prize for Architecture and Urban Planning (1980), Right Livelihood Award (1980)


  • Fathy  recognized that architecture is for human beings. He believed that architecture must be shaped by factors like the wind, sun, nature and the individuality and culture of the people involved.
  • He rejected architecture that was not indigenous rooted in the location and the culture of the area, which in his mind found its truest expression in the vernacular architecture of a society.
  • His rejection was of internationalism itself as a homogenizing concept that stripped human beings of their individuality
  • “You must start right from the beginning, letting your buildings grow from the daily lives of the people who live in them, shaping the houses to the measure of the peoples songs, weaving the patterns of a village as if on the village looms, mindful of the trees and the crops that will grow there, respectful to the skyline and humble before the seasons.
  • There must be neither faked tradition nor faked modernity, but an architecture that will be the visible and permanent expression of the character of the community.
  • But this would mean nothing less than a whole new architecture.”

New Gourna Village, Egypt:

The village of New Gourna, which was partially built between 1945 and 1948, is possibly the most well known of all of Fathy’s projects because of the international popularity of his book, “Architecture for the Poor”, published nearly twenty years after the experience and concentrating primarily on the ultimately tragic history of this single village.

Salient Features:

  • Old Gourna was a thriving community of 500 hamlets built along the hills in West Luxor.
  • In its design there is an hierarchy to the village which is easiest read by the system of open spaces.
  • Main route to the village interior widens to create a kind of public square around which many community functions could take place.
  • Houses were planned in irregular allotments.
  • Smallest unit in the hierarchy of open space is the multipurpose courtyard.
  • Starting with this private space of courtyard he finally reached the open fields of the Nile Valley.
  • Animal husbandry is a vital link in the family economy.

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