A.13 -

A. K. Award for Architecture - posthumous

HL Architect looks to mud to house poor

Byline: Mimi Mann

Credit: Associated Press

DD 11/05/89


Edition: FINAL


Page: H1

Origin: CAIRO

TX CAIRO - In his youth, Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy was determined to find a way to house the world's poor. As years became decades, others sought answers in steel and concrete. Their high-rises grew higher. Their little boxes dotted hillsides. But Fathy, looking to the magic beneath him, turned mud bricks, volcanic rock and sand into design masterpieces. For generations of young architects, he became a prophet, a Picasso of the earth. His sweeping domed creations with shaded courtyards and latticed windows are seen not only in the Middle East but on a sun-baked mesa in the American West, reviving the use of mud brick, or adobe, in the Islamic community Dar al-Islam in Abiquiu, New Mexico. In the land of his birth, however, where housing problems are acute, Fathy's remarkably simple solutions remain stillborn. Unable to convince either successive Egyptian governments or the poor that mud is as glamorous as concrete, Fathy has found a following mainly among Egyptian intellectuals and Western architects. Now 89 and in ill health, Fathy has seen his world narrow, but not his dreams. Surrounded by slender minarets, Saladin's lusty Citadel and scores of cats, Fathy struggles in his aerie above Old Cairo to complete projects for three Egyptian oases. He's nearly done. ``People say to use mud bricks for housing is to take a step backward, but in reality it's turning forward,`` Fathy said in an interview. ``Concrete blocks bear no human reference ... ``It's disgusting when you lose hope, when you think your ideas are not being accepted in the right way ... I have the answer, but nobody will listen. The answer is under foot.`` An admirer is Britain's Prince of Wales, an architectural critic who pays homage to Fathy in his just-published book ``A Vision of Britain.`` ``People in the Middle East are now listening with increasing interest to a remarkable Egyptian architect called Dr. Hassan Fathy who, for 40 years, has had to put up with persistent vitriolic criticism and denigration by the modernist architectural establishment,`` Prince Charles writes. Even so, the world's poor, some 800 million, remain out of reach. For them, Fathy says, there is no hope of decent housing until officials take a different view of their plight. ``Government officials cannot grasp how poor poor is,`` he wrote in the now-classic ``Architecture for the Poor,`` standard reading in architecture courses around the world. Fathy says governments can save money and spur initiative by letting peasants form cooperatives to do the work themselves and encouraging them to use free or cheap materials according to their environment: mud, stone, limestone, wood or reeds. Peasant housing in Egypt, he says, is vastly inferior to ancient housing, mud-brick structures that often outlasted even pyramids. Fathy struggled to discover what the ancients knew, how to shape and curve mud bricks. In 1941 his search took him to the southern Egyptian village of Gharb Aswan, where tradition hadn't clashed with modern technology. ``Every house was a wonder, every house different,`` he says. ``A whole village of spacious, lovely, clean and harmonious houses, each more beautiful than the last.`` The impact is evident in any Fathy design. In 1980 he and two village masons soared arches and domes into the New Mexico sky for America's first mud-brick mosque. ``The Americans were willing, but not the Egyptians,`` he says. ``Americans have no inferiority complex. They're open-minded.`` That thought led Fathy to recall his greatest heartache: In the 1940s, the Egyptian government wanted to shift the 6,000 inhabitants of Gourna, a village on the west side of the Nile opposite present-day Luxor. Hired to construct a mud-brick village, Fathy wanted each house to suit the needs of an individual family. His ideals, however, immediately clashed with bureaucratic dicta which said the poor were too ignorant to decide for themselves. Officials stopped the project, the families were not transferred, and buildings that had been finished remained empty, a ghost town. Fathy spent the next years designing public and private buildings in his homeland, his stunning use of mud brick and other natural materials gradually earning him an international reputation. * The Aga Khan Foundation, which recognizes Islamic architectural excellence, gave Fathy its first Chairman's Award in 1980, noting ``his commitment to the poor and his extraordinary aesthetic sense`` and hailing him as a ``champion of indigenous building. ``Hassan Fathy has taught us the value of ... environment,`` the jury said. ``He has shown us that the lessons to be learned are modern lessons.`` @Art: WIRE PHOTO @Art Caption: HOUSING FOR THE POOR Architect Hassan Fathy uses natural, free materials. @Art Credit: AP

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