Back-to-Basics Architect, Champion of Housing for Poor, Dies
CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ Architect Hassan Fathy, who turned mud bricks into architectural masterpieces he hoped would one day house the world’s poor, died Thursday. He was 89.
Nawal Hassan, a friend and adviser, said Fathy developed a fever on Wednesday and collapsed early Thursday as he returned to his bed.
Fathy, a widower at a young age, spent most of his life trying to convince the world that the answer to housing its 800 million poor people lay in providing natural materials they could use to build for themselves.
He advocated mud brick instead of concrete and steel, preferred quiet inner courtyards over high-rise apartments and had as his ideal human hands, simple tools and traditional methods instead of highly paid contractors and imported technology.
Fathy often was labeled a crackpot and charlatan in Egypt, the land of his birth. He was all but forgotten here except by Egyptian intellectuals.
But his designs in mud brick, volcanic rock and compressed sand were long hailed outside Egypt, and his death was front-page news Friday in Cairo dailies. He designed the first mud brick mosque in the United States for an Islamic community in New Mexico.
Fathy’s 1969 work, ″Architecture for the Poor,″ became a standard text in architectural classrooms, inspiring a generation of builders trying to solve acute housing shortages and exploding populations of the Third World.
It was translated in 22 languages - but not Arabic.
One Fathy fan is Britain’s Prince Charles, a critic of modern architecture. In a recent book, Charles called Fathy ″a remarkable Egyptian architect who for 40 years has had to put up with persistent vitriolic criticism and denigration by the modernist architectural establishment.″
But perhaps his foremost adversaries were the people he most wanted to help, the poor. He struggled without success to convince Egyptian peasants that mud brick, a traditional building material in Egypt, is preferable to concrete.
In a 1986 interview, Fathy said, ″You stop dreaming when you grow old, yet there are things you’d like to do.
″People say to use mud bricks for housing is to take a step backward, but in reality it’s a step forward. Concrete blocks bear no human reference. To peasants they bring only tragedy.″
Rural life for the young Fathy was more an idea than a reality. His father worked in Cairo and refused to allow his children to visit his country estates because ″to him it was a place of flies, mosquitoes and polluted water,″ Fathy wrote.
In 1980, Fathy received the first Chairman’s Award of the Aga Khan Foundation, an international group that recognizes excellence in Islamic architecture.
He left no close survivors. His funeral was set for Friday in Cairo.