"Hassan Fathy ... Against the Current" is the title of the exhibition currently being held in the "Arab House" in the Spanish capital, Madrid, which recalls the experience of one of the most important architects who influenced Arab architecture from the forties until the end of the twentieth century, and his project - in terms of idea and application - remained questionable. The controversy continues today.
The exhibition, which will be held until May 16 next, includes photographs, plans, architectural plans and books written by the architect himself, and others I wrote about him, as well as paintings by the Armenian-Egyptian artist Chant Afdessian (1951-2018) who went to Islamic art and its decorations in his works under the influence of Fathi after he met him in the year 1980.
The "Arab House" also displays the work of "Video Art" by the British artist, Hannah Collins, who traveled to visit "The New Qurna" in 2018, the village that Fathi finished building in 1949, west of Luxor, Egypt, in order to absorb the displaced from the Pharaonic cemeteries on the western mainland. 70 houses next to the school, mosque and theater.
In building the village, Fathi employed architectural traditions known to the inhabitants of desert regions, and others from the Nubian architectural heritage, in which he resorted to bricks, mud and sand mixed with straw, rice straw and wheat, to be cheap building materials that provide great thermal insulation.
Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy (communication sites)
In "New Gourm", Collins took pictures with a digital camera, and recorded live sounds from the scene, which were the basis of the 20-minute video.
"I am particularly interested in architecture and environmental solutions," the artist says in an interview with Al Jazeera Net, "I have thought a lot about Hassan Fathy as I build a house in the desert in southern Spain, and employ some of his ideas. And when I was in Gouma, I realized that I could visit the new village of Paris that Fathi built, and he was able About reducing the temperature inside homes to 20 degrees. I wanted to see for myself the models of his projects on the ground and record their lives today, and what these places respond to today, and what is the system surrounding them all. "
The artist found these places far from services desolate and lethargic, and she photographed the corners, walls, floors, the state of the place, the light in the day and dawn, the houses in the middle of the night, the mosque and the theater, the places she describes as miniature cities thrown in the desert, which have not been exploited or utilized in any way.
Architectural designs for engineer Hassan Fathy (communication sites)
According to Collins, knowledge of the Fathi project on a large global scale is modest, hanging. “I think the lack of knowledge of these ideas limits their impact.” For example, she believes that this architecture can be a solution today for immigrants who cross the region in which they live in southern Spain, and explains "Many immigrants come to Spain and cross the desert, and those who arrive live in very poor conditions. They live on almost nothing. I made this video, perhaps drawing attention to the fact that the Fathi project is possible to accommodate these immigrants in suitable places."
Collins' video, entitled "I will make a song and sing it on stage", was shown before in San Francisco, Barcelona, Madrid and other European cities, and it has never been presented in any Arab city, which is what the artist looks forward to saying, "It is possible to imagine a different history of the Middle East if it was an idea. Fathi had met someone who would respond to her. When I visited New Gourna, I was amazed why the utopia he thought of was not influential, was his luck bad? "
But what really happened to the ideas of the architect Hassan Fathy?
What are the transformations you have undergone?
We ask the Jordanian architect and urban planner Raed Arnaout, who is the author of the book "Orientalism in Arab Architecture", who says in an interview with Al-Jazeera Net, "Hassan Fathi was a pioneer in dealing with heritage architecture before the start of the Islamic architecture movement in the Arab world that spread in the seventies and reached its zenith. In the nineties, the importance of his works is that they began to deal with heritage from an environmental and architectural standpoint, in addition to influences from traditional architecture in Egypt and the Islamic heritage there, especially Mamluk architecture.
Fathi had - according to Arnavut - "a great role in dealing with the architecture of the poor, based on the fact that poor environments in Egypt need an architecture that deals with the climate and natural materials, to create an architecture in which the local community participates in construction and is in harmony with its surroundings."
He continues, "In Fathi's writings, we find him focusing on the environment, the local community and heritage, and his works, which witnessed a great momentum in the forties, had a great impact on architectural production in the Arab world later." To his work, the first true appreciation for him was from the West. "
Poor environments in Egypt need an architecture that deals with climate and natural materials in the local community (Al-Jazeera)
Arnaout pauses when evaluating Fathi's experience in its integrated form, explaining that the architect's work "appeared to be an anti-modernism trend, but at the same time, after a period of time, this architecture turned into a style, and because of its strangeness and because of the Arab cities' tendencies to create a different urban identity and architecture, the trend began to ... The so-called Islamic architecture, the title of ecological architecture or the architecture of the poor - which is the most important title - is no longer the real motive behind what was produced later.
Arnaout mentions two works, an example of Fathi's transformation: The first is the "Nassif House" in Jeddah, which was designed by Fathi in 1973, and says, "It is a residence for the wealthy, so it is no longer a matter of the architecture of the poor or the architecture of the local environment, but rather a building representing a Mamluk style reproduced by the desire of the owner." the work".
As for the "Dar al-Salaam Village" in New Mexico, designed by Fathi in 1980, Arnaout considers it another example in which the architecture that its owner had thought lost its original orientation, and says, "The architectural thought of Fathi transformed from the architecture of the environment and the poor linked to heritage to an architecture linked to the rich and the bodies at the hands of Fathi himself," Then it was transformed into a style (style) at the hands of other architects, some of whom preserved its authenticity and some of them turned it into tourism projects. This is the desired style for tourists. "
As for the reflections of Fathi's experience, as seen by Arnaout, on Arab architecture, they appear in "the change that occurred in the urban orientation and was affected by some architects, including Abdel Wahid Al-Wakeel, and some of Rasim Badran's work in the 1990s and others. This was not a tradition for Fathi, but an orientation towards heritage."
Reading Fathi’s work - according to the Jordanian architect - “It must be within this vision. There is a stage of thought related to the environment, heritage and the poor, then he transformed himself into a special style and rich architecture that has nothing to do with the architecture of the environment associated with the place, and then it turned into an architectural style.”
Arnaout concludes by saying, "I do not think that this school took its right and continued with the same intellectual maturity that it started with, because it turned into forms, tourism consumption and a romantic view to search for the identity that the Arab world lost after the end of colonialism and search for it in various forms, including a return to Islamic architecture, but it was A formal orientation in most of its cases and did not transform into thought and knowledge within the community to produce a building that would be built by the community itself, as Fathi had imagined.Keywords: