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Exhibit: Huda Lutfi’s Cut & Paste at Townhouse Gallery

Cut and Paste- Huda Lutfi

Cut and Paste
Huda Lutfi
Townhouse Factory Space
December 1, 2013- January 8, 2014
Opening reception
Sunday, December 1, 7 pm

In “Cut and Paste,” Huda Lutfi presents a psycho-geographic archive of emotions, gestures, figures of speech and images that circulated in public space during Egypt’s transitional period. All new work produced over the past two years, these collages, found objects and sculptures combine to create one impressionistic story of the recent past.

The exhibition’s title refers to the material process of making collages, as well as the archival process of collecting information from the internet. But it also refers to a certain frenetic process of history-making, in which the same events seem to repeat themselves over and over again. The works in “Cut and Paste” are highly repetitious in nature, whether because they are produced in serials, or compositionally rely on the repetition of the same phrase, text or image. They are infused with that strange phenomenon of déjà vu—an in-between, indeterminate experience that seems so familiar and banal, but that has particular significance in this political context. If we feel that we have already experienced the present moment, then we should be able to predict what is about to happen—but, as Lutfi’s work suggests, that sense of control is always illusory.

Derrida’s “archive fever” has been raging in the region since the revolutionary spring of 2011. There is a paranoia over the authorship of this as-yet-unformed historical narrative; a desire to grasp it and understand it through archival materials; and a destruction and manipulation of archival materials in an attempt to influence that narrative. There are institutionalized, consciously crafted moments of amnesia that coexist with moments of overly determined, overly present memories.

An archive of absences, “Cut and Paste” attempts to capture those fleeting moments and moods that are edited out of traditional historical narratives. The artist was attracted to these materials impulsively, because they triggered intense emotional reactions. They were not selected according to a hierarchy of perceived value, and this body of work does not pretend to be a comprehensive record of events; instead, it is highly personal, non-linear in its chronology, and blurry in its actual presentation of events. In fact, “Cut and Paste” is not a record or documentation of reality at all, but a remixing of a lived experience.

For more information please contact Townhouse at +202-2576 80 86. For press material please contact Marwa Morgan, Public relations manager at marwa@thetownhousegallery.com .

Curating the exhibit “Covering One’s Back”

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مها مآمون والاء يونس


ما قبل


وجه مركز الجزيرة للفنون دعوة إلى المؤسسة الثقافية السويسرية (بروهلفتسيا) للتعاون لتنظيم معرض للتصوير الفوتوغرافي في صالات المركز يفتتح في مايو ٢٠١٣. لبت المؤسسة الدعوة وكلفتنا بدور القيّم الفني تاركة لنا حرية تحديد موضوع/اتجاه المعرض والفنانين المشتركين، على أن نراعي التركيز على الوسيط الفوتوغرافي، والتمثيل الموازي ما بين المشاركين السويسريين والعرب والالتزام بحدود الميزانية والمساحة المتاحة.

تطلب البحث في الأعمال ومقابلة الفنانين والمصورين العرب والسويسريين وقتا طويلا، لا سيما في محاولة معرفة كيف وعلى ما يمكن أن تلتقي المشاريع الفنية والفوتغرافية لهذه المجموعة الواسعة من منتجي الصور. وكذلك الطريقة التي تمكنهم من مخاطبة المشاهد في القاهرة التي لم تتوقف عن إنتاج واستهلاك فيضان من الصور المتمحورة على ذاتها فقط من بعد ثورة يناير.

كان السؤال: ما الصور التي نطيق النظر إليها الآن؟ وما الصور التي ستحتمل مواجهتنا؟

من هنا، بدا أن المساحة الوحيدة التي يمكن أن تلتقي بها اهتمامات المصورين العرب والسويسريين مع اهتمامات المشاهد هي المساحة التي يحددها المشاهد بنفسه، وقد أصبح بفعل ما مر ويمر به من ظرف شخصي وتاريخي، مُشاهد حادٌ، قليل الصبر على ما هو خارج إطار اهتمامه ووضعه الآني والآتي.  

الحذر والاصرار والشك والتحقق والطموح والانزواء والاستعراض والخداع والترهيب والتبرير وصون النفس، هي المشاعر التي ترافقنا بشكل يومي، الآن أكثر مما مضى. اتخذت هذه المشاعر كنقطة ارتكاز لمعرض “أمِّن ظهرك”، وكصلة وصل ضمنية بين المشاريع الفنية الثمانية في المعرض وما بين المُشاهد.

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المعرض

إلى جانب المشاعر والمساحات المشتركة ما بين الجمهور والصورة، اهتم المعرض بإبراز أعمال من لغات وممارسات فوتوغرافية مختلفة، تبحث سواء بسواء في شكل وموضوع وسياق إنتاج الصورة واستقبالها.

حضر “جيمي شنادير” (1979) لهايني شتوكي بنظارة سوداء ووجه مصمت لا يبوح، ينظر مباشرة في الكاميرا، إلا أن مباشرته لا تشي بشيء. يحسن إخفاء ورقه. مذهل بكلا المعنيين للكلمة. ليس عليه أن يفعل شيئا أكثر ليستبقي اهتمامنا، ليهددنا أو ينجو منا. لم يأت وحده، بل مع مجموعة طاغية من الشخصيات الهامشية التي صادفها شتوكي في جولاته في شوارع مدينة برن السويسرية. شخصيات تقف على الحافة، قريبة ومألوفة لنا نفسيا برغم بعدها الجغرافي.

يليهم مقامرو سباق الخيول الذين صورهم ياسر علوان على مدى سنوات في نادي الجزيرة الرياضي القريب من المركز. يقف الرجال أمامنا مكشوفين وأجسادهم ملتوية بتنبؤات الربح والخسارة. “رغم كل العقبات” (1996 - 2001) وعلمهم بتزوير اللعبة، يقامرون على لحظة من خسارة وشيكة. كذلك يتماسك “غ.ر.ا.ه.ا.م” (2008)، وهو يحافظ على تعابير وجهه وصمته واتصال عينيه بالكاميرا، أمام أسئلة حسن خان الحثيثة ولربما المتعدية. بورتريه صامت ممتد في الوقت صُور بكاميرا فيديو.

نجد نوعا آخر من مواجهة الصعاب ومن التساؤل في ماهية الصورة الفوتوغرافية والمتحركة في مجموعة من حوارات أجراها غوران غاليتش وجان-ريتو غريدغ مع مصورين صحفيين محترفين. “مصورون في صراع” (2007)، هم أيضا يواجهون الكاميرا ويجيبون عن الأسئلة التي يوجهها الفنانين، كاشفين بعضا من أجندات خفية شخصية ومهنية للتصوير الصحفي.
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 [“أراض متحركة” (2011) لجورج عودة]


ليس علينا بالضرورة أن نكون في مواجهة وصراع كل الوقت، يمكننا أن نتذاكى فنقفز عبر المستحيل. أن نعيد إنتاج ذواتنا. في “خذني إلى هذا المكان، أريد أن أفعل الذكريات” (2011)، للمجموعة الفنية “أطفال أحداث”، تختار الوجوه أجسامها من نماذج توفرها ستوديوهات التصوير التجارية في بعض البلاد العربية. لدى المرء فرصة أن يضع وجهه في الفراغ وينطلق. كن نفسك في مكان آخر، بشكل آخر، وإلى ما لا نهاية. متجاوزا كل قيود الواقع الغير رقمي.

هذه المنطقة المتحولة ما بين الواقع والنسخة المصطنعة منه هي التي يتموضع فيها “اللا حقيقي العظيم” (5-2009). مستعينين بمخزون من الحيل التصويرية والسينمائية، يخرج تايو أونوراتو ونكو كربس في رحلة برية لينتجوا صورا أسطورية جديدة لأمريكا. ما بين المرح والنقد، يأرجح الفنانان صورة أمريكا الهوليودية، شكلا ومضمونا، متجاوزان سيطرة الصور الشائعة.

بينما يقدم رفائل هفتي مجموعة صور توثق الخصائص الغير مرئية (السرعة والصوت) لفعل مادي بحت (اختراق رصاصة لوسيط) في “صورة رصاصة”(2009).  قياسات تقنية، وجدها الفنان في أرشيف شركة صناعات باليستية، أخذت بكاميرات خاصة لتقبض على صورة الرصاصة في لحظات معلقة ما بين منطلقها ومستقرها. صور علمية تقارب التجريد، منسلخة عن سياقها الجيوسياسي.

"معابر هادئة" (2009) في "أراض متحركة" (2011) لجورج عودة هي أيضا صور لفراغات تنحتها الحركة. آثار خافتة لمرور عمال / مهجرين / مهربين عبر الحدود أو في مناطق سكنية في مدينة بيروت. في عبورهم الطوعي أو القسري تتقاطع المسارات الشخصية بالسياسية.

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[“خذني إلى هذا المكان، أريد أن أفعل الذكريات” (2011)، للمجموعة الفنية “أطفال أحداث”]

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[من مجموعة “رغم كل العقبات” لياسر علوان]

ما بعد


مركز الجزيرة فضاء نشيط ويستقبل زوارا مهتمين بالفنون البصرية وكذلك زوار جاره متحف الفنون الإسلامية المغلق للترميم. للمركز حديقة ومسرح خارجي وقاعة سينما، ويندرج تحت إدارة قطاع الفنون التشكيلية التابع لوزارة الثقافة.

يمكننا أن نقول أن حضور المعرض جاء ناجحا جدا. وفد الزائرون في الافتتاح بأعداد كبيرة، ما بين طلاب الجامعات، ومزج من رواد مركز الجزيرة للفنون المتابعين لفعالياته ومن رواد الفضاءات والمؤسسات الأخرى التي نأتي نحن (كمنسقتان/فنانتان) منها. قليل ما يتقابل مثل هذان الجمهوران. بالنسبة لنا، كان من المثير أن نرى الوجوه المألوفة في وسط عديد من وجوه غير مألوفة، ونسمع الأسئلة أو التعليقات أو الضحكات أمام أعمال فكّرنا أيضا أنها طريفة. ربما تعودنا على التقسيم الموجود اليوم في وسطنا الفني: الفن الفلاني في الأماكن الفلانية، وانقسام الجمهور تباعا.

تكررت الأسئلة يوم الافتتاح: كيف أتيح لكما المكان؟ كيف كان التعامل مع العاملين فيه؟ ج: كانوا متعاونين جدا وراغبين في المساعدة وربما مكتفي الأيدي في كثير من الأحيان إزاء قلة الامكانيات المتاحة من القطاع والإجراءات الطويلة والصراعات الوظيفية على امتداد السلم الوظيفي. س: كيف نستطيع أن نعرض فيه؟ ج: تم الاتفاق ما بين مؤسسة بروهلفتسيا ومركز الجزيرة قبل ظهورنا في الصورة، ولكن المكان نظريا (بقاعاته ومسرحه وسينماه) متاح للحجز وبالمجان. س: ما هي معايير أو شروط القبول؟ ج: لا نعرف! ولكن عليكم أن توفروا بأنفسكم غالب المعدات وأن تتكفلوا بمصاريف الإنتاج وبأجور الأوقات الإضافية للنجارين أو النقاشين (المتاحين ولكن الأضمن أن تأتوا بعمالكم نظرا لضيق الوقت وبيروقراطية الإجراءات) وبأثمان الطلاء لو حاد عن اللون الأبيض وبالالتزام بإعادته إلى لونه الأصلي بعد انتهاء العرض. واعلموا بأن وحدات الإنارة عمرها قصير وأن المخزن تنقصه الموارد فعليكم أن تستعدوا بلمبات إضافية حتى لا تظلم أجزاء من القاعة خلال مدة معرضكم، وأن الأجهزة التي يوفرها القطاع عليها طلب كبير لذا قد لا تتوفر طوال مدة العرض. وأن الطلب على العرض في هذه القاعات كبير جدا لذلك قد تختصر مدة المعرض إلى اسبوع واحد أحيانا أو تضغط مدة تركيب وفك المعرض إلى يوم أو نصف يوم مهما كان حجم المعرض، مما سيؤثر قطعا على جودةالعرض والعمل الفني المعروض. س: هل هذه المعلومات منشورة في مكان ما وأين؟ ج: لا نعرف. س: لمَ تظل هذه المعلومات غير معروفة لعامة مستخدمي ورواد المركز وقطاع واسع من الفنانين المبتدئين ومن المحترفين الذين يعملون في هذا المجال وهذه المدينة منذ زمن طويل؟ ج: للعلم، يسري هذا الوضع على شبكة عريضة من الفضاءات التابعة لوزارة الثقافة.

في حوار على الإذاعة المصرية، س: لماذا اخترتم فضاء خاصا يخاطب فئة معينة ومحدودة من الناس؟ ج: هذا فضاء عام تابع لوزارة الثقافة، ونظريا زيارته متاحة للجميع. لو أحيط، أو غيره، بهالة “النخبوية” فإنما هو انعكاس للفجوات بين عموم الجمهور والسياسات الثقافية للدولة. س: هل يمكن تنظيم هذا المعرض في مركز للشباب مثلا؟ ج: يمكن تأهيل مثل هذه المساحات لتوفر ما تتطلبه طبيعة الأعمال الفنية من تقنيات وظروف عرض متخصصة، ولكن من يقوم بهذا الدور، بينما، ربما، من الأولى أن يعاد تأهيل وتفعيل دور وقصور الثقافة المنتشرة والشبه متوقفة عن العمل الحقيقي.

900KM Nile City: grappling with Egypt’s baffling urban condition

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From February 17 to March 6 the Townhouse Gallery hosted an exhibit titled 900KM Nile City, a project by Atelier Kempe Thill, baukuh, GRAU and edited by Moataz Faissal Farid and Pier Paolo Tamburelli.

The scale of the project is ambitious, it describes in text, video, maps, and photographs the narrow stretch of land from Aswan to Cairo where a series of settlements comprise a Nile City measuring 900KM in length. “It is an accident. There was never the will or the wish to create it; it just happened. The Nile City is a new city type that was formed simply by rapid population growth.”

While Cairo takes the lion’s share of the attention of urbanists interested in Egypt, 900KM Nile City looks the other way, at the urban settlements south of the capital which have mushroomed over the past five decades around previously established towns and villages. It also charts the state’s failed response to urban growth with its “new cities” or “desert cities” built on the edge of the fertile land to house population growth away from the valley and its settlements. It is from these settlements, where the economy has nearly collapsed, that thousands of migrants head to Cairo in search of work opportunities. The new cities built by the state are largely vacant, unused and failed on the social and economic levels to respond to population needs in addition to failing to negotiate the relationship between peasant society, its relationship to the land, agriculture and economy and its transformation into a semi-urbanized society relying less on agriculture as the state favors international importation of basic food stuffs over supporting local farming economies.

900KM Nile City looks at the current situation “with optimism, but without illusion” in an attempt to understand the urban and environmental features of this unique strip of land in order to begin to propose visions for moving forward. This has led the team of researchers to work in collaboration with multiple partners ranging from Assiut University, Berlage Institute, Sohag Governorate, and others to collect data and identify typologies, and existing networks. This data was then translated into readable graphs, diagrams, drawings, and maps. This process of abstraction is one that belongs to the long history of the profession of planning: raw data claiming to reflect reality in numbers must be transformed into legible consumable images and representations. The resulting images and maps are remarkable.

The photographic element of the project includes works by Stefano Graziani, Bas Princen and Giovanna Silva. The photographs range from landscape to street scenes. The accompanying video "It’s Countryside" incorporates commentary from specialists along with interviews by locals and footage from Sohag Governorate, where the project zooms in to capture a piece of the 900KM City.

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Beyond documentation, research and visualization, the project also presents a proposal, a way forward on how to mend the situation in anticipation for further growth of populations and continuous loss of agricultural land. The proposed solution consists of urban belts linking existing Nile Valley towns with their desert city counterparts. Although schematic at its current stage, the proposal falls short of providing a nuanced approach to solving the problematic current conditions. There is a certain naiveté of believing that design is capable of solving such complex urban problems, where in fact I would argue what is fundamental to confronting the situation is sound policy, not design.

The voices from the communities heard in the video are proof that the primary complaints and struggles these communities face are rooted in ill-conceived state policies that then impact the designs and appearances of towns and villages and dictate their urban growth.

The state with all its hegemonic power over matters of economy and development intervenes minimally and often relies on “experts” and consultants to legitimize its top-down plans and proposals. During the panel discussion accompanying this important project the state was not represented nor does it seem to care.

The panel discussion held at the Goethe Institute was a lively event where the project was presented by its creators who also invited Cairobserver and Professor Nabil Elhady of Cairo University to present a critical point of view. The project, exhibition and panel created an opportunity for an important discussion to take place about the role of architects and planners and their relationship to society and the state, as well as about the specificity and peculiarities of the Nile Valley urban condition, and many other topics this ambitious project sheds light on.

Visit the website of the 900KM Nile City where much of the project’s content is available.

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Hassan Fathy: Architecture for the rich

Hassan Fathy’s New Gourna from Oliver Wilkins on Vimeo.

Last January the Gezira Art Center hosted an exhibition and a series of events about architect Hassan Fathy and his work. Hassan Fathy is perhaps Egypt’s most renowned architect from the 20th century, but why?

The exhibition was beautifully curated and organized with images, text, models, video projection, as well as samples of Fathy’s mud bricks, the most essential element of his constructions. Fathy’s 1945 housing project for the relocation of the village of Gourna in Luxor was his most famous and internationally renowned project. The village which has fallen into disrepair (watch video above) is currently the focus of a UNESCO rehabilitation and documentation project. Gourna was not a project free of controversy nor was it a success, at least for the intended inhabitants of the village. Fathy left no mark on Egypt’s urban centers: Cairo and Alexandria don’t have examples of Fathy’s architecture (with the exception of a mausoleum and few private homes), his ideas printed in his “Gourna, tale of two villages” (later published by the Chicago University Press with the condescending title “Architecture for the poor”) have failed to produce any practical solutions for Egypt’s urban and housing problems. Despite this underwhelming record, Fathy’s oeuvre is celebrated in the West as an example of “other/vernacular modernism” and is celebrated in Egypt mostly by his students as authentic modernity/spirited continuity with the past.

It is difficult to fully comprehend why Hassan Fathy overshadows his contemporaries who had successful practices, built many buildings and engaged in current discourses (Ali Labib Gabr, Antoine Selim Nahas, Mahmoud Riad). Fathy also overshadows his colleague Ramses Wissa Wassef (who like Fathy engaged with the question of vernacular architecture and perhaps was more successful in balancing modern practicality with vernacular identity without falling in the trap of essentialism). Finally, one of Egypt’s most influential architects of the modern period, Mustafa Fahmy, will never make an appearance in a Western curriculum of the history of modern architecture nor in an Egyptian exhibit, yet Hassan Fathy might. How can this selective celebration of a figure with little impact on his community and profession be explained?

The legend, the myths

Fathy had interesting ideas about architecture, there is no denying this fact. But he wasn’t the only one with interesting ideas in 20th century Egyptian architecture. Fathy had a strong following of students, particularly in the 1970s when the notion of vernacular modernism was emerging in Western academia coinciding with proclamations of the failure/death of high-modernism along with the birth of post-modernism. Egypt, like many countries, particularly those who had recently experienced heavy-handed state-led development in post-revolution or post-independence “third world” societies, experienced high-modernism withdrawal.

Over the past couple of decades there have been numerous articles keeping the memory of Hassan Fathy alive. Nearly every six months there is a new piece regurgitating a long list of myths and stereotypes about Fathy as the ONLY architect worth remembering, as a founder of green-environmentally friendly architecture in Egypt, as the symbol of authenticity and culturally sensitive design, and as the humble architect who worked with people to realize his designs.

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[“An empty village like the tombs of the pharaohs and its called Gourna” from the popular magazine al-Musawwar, 1961. Note Hassan Fathy’s name isn’t mentioned, it only mentions “built by the state in 1945.”]

In a nutshell, the standard narrative, as stated in this 1999 discussion of Fathy’s legacy, argues the following  “”The “modern movement” in the West, which aimed to use new architectural materials and technology to improve the life of the ordinary city-dweller, had foundered on aggressive stylistic innovation and an arrogant disregard of the past; Fathy showed how social needs could be met using familiar, vernacular styles, materials and techniques, and with the participation of the “consumer.” However, I have some reservations on nearly all of the points made here:

1) I find it extremely dated and naive to look through a narrow perspective at twentieth century architectural development and continue to argue that “the modern movement” was an exclusively “western” endeavor. Architects around the world, including Egypt, engaged in practices that responded to common developments and problems such as the availability of new materials and technologies and the pressing issues of urban areas particularly the need for housing. These were not “western” problems and in finding solutions, professionals across the world dealt with those concerns using the latest accessible designs and approaches. This is the 20th century and the world is to a large extent connected via new media and communications. Thus to expect a solution to modern urban problems in Egypt (or any other non-western country) to be drastically different from say Italy, Spain or France is to accept racist and orientalist notions that the non-western other is essentially non-modern (or their modern must be a different kind, more primitive modern), otherwise a pragmatic concrete housing block in Africa designed by a local architect using locally produced materials is at best viewed as “western.”

2) The claim that Hassan Fathy used “familiar vernacular” architectural language is far from the truth. Domed architecture in upper Egypt is funerary, not residential/domestic, hence the refusal of such form by villagers. Similarly, the claim that his materials and techniques were familiar and local goes against Fathy’s own description of the process of instructing builders how to create his mud brick and the many repeated attempts to perfect building his domes. This was instructed architecture as were the modernist designs he distanced himself from. Had this been truly vernacular, then the presence of an architect arriving from the urban capital hundreds of miles away should have been unnecessary. Fathy’s domes for domestic space were not traditional, rather they were an “invented tradition.”

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3) The claim that “consumers” of Fathy’s spaces “participated” in the making of the architecture negates the stark difference of position between Fathy, as the knowledgeable professional, and the builders/villagers/dwellers as recipients of his expertise. In fact, the extent of participation was clearly defined along that line of expert vs receiver of expertise and Fathy is even documented in photographs, including one shown at the exhibition last year where he is clearly instructing, standing over builders, rather than the image propagated about the architect as working with, as equal, learning from as well as teaching the builders.

The other myth perpetuated about Hassan Fathy is that his architecture represents the “continuity of Islamic architecture,” an argument forming the spine of Ahmad Hamid’s 2010 book Hassan Fathy and Continuity in Islamic Art and Architecture: The Birth of a New Modern. In this book, Ahmad Hamid positions Hassan Fathy in relation to a long tradition of Islamic Architecture as well as in relation to the advent of twentieth century modernism. The book focuses on Hassan Fathy as “a condenser of an older intelligence” (45) and as an agent of reviving and creating anew an architectural practice that is connected with the essence of an Islamic architectural tradition.

I would argue that Fathy’s architecture is premised not on the continuity of a particular tradition, Islamic or otherwise, but rather as a reactionary response to modernism as a style and a project. In this sense his architecture is less about authenticity and more about romanticism, not unlike European architects and critics of the 19th century who reacted against new concepts of architecture by resorting to primitivism and revivalism.

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[Streets in the Habous Quartier in Casablanca, Morocco built by French colonial architects in the 1930s in a madina-like “vernacular” mode for native, working and middle classes in contrast with the modern town center for European and upper classes]

Also, Fathy’s most famous project, New Gourna, is for me less of “architecture for the poor” than it is a colonial project. Not colonial in the sense of foreignness, but in the approaches and techniques of imposing on a local population the vision of an architect coming from the capital commissioned by a central state to build following state orders, rather than following the desires of the locals. In other words, the residents of Gourna did not commission Fathy nor did they seek his services. New Gourna brings to mind Habous Quartier in colonial Casablanca, a district built in the 1930s by French “experts” for the “native” population using what the French must have thought of as “vernacular” madina architecture.

[the 1964 film الجبل “The Mountain” is inspired by the story of Gourna and features an architect trying to relocate villagers away from the mountain where artifacts have been found. Scenes were filmed in New Gourna]

Vernaculars old and new

Hassan Fathy was certainly an architect who belonged to a particular moment in the twentieth century along with his contemporaries in Egypt, India and elsewhere who reacted to concrete and increasingly standardized architecture of the twentieth century. However, the pompous celebrations, flowery descriptions, selective admiration of Fathy in the last several decades since his international recognition in the 1970s has had negative consequences. Somehow the celebration of Fathy came at the expense of recognizing other architects from twentieth century Egypt, particularly the modernists. By promoting the legacy of Fathy the notion that Egypt’s modernists were merely copycats with little contribution of their own to Egyptian architecture or modern architecture in general has been fully ingrained and accepted. Additionally, the perpetuation of Fathy’s romantic ideals has failed to confront the realities in which we live: that his ideas and concepts fail to respond to the mass need for housing, and that his rejection of concrete and modern materials has not been heeded by the poor for whom he claimed to design.

Since Fathy’s 1940s experiment and 1960s book about that experiment, a new vernacular has emerged, one which academics, architects and casual observers continue to negate and choose to ignore. Egypt’s vernacular, what the masses are actually building and without the services of architects (architecture without architects) is reinforced concrete and red brick and it is eating up the country. The refusal of architects to work with this reality to theorize and conceptualize new approaches that accommodate the needs of communities and the available (not the most sustainable) materials has delayed the potential for something interesting to be created here. While some continue to dust off the figure of Hassan Fathy on the pedestal, millions of square meters of concrete and red brick are rising around Egypt, from the center of the capital to the rural outskirts and small villages. While Hassan Fathy’s “architecture for the poor” is exhibited in the posh district of Zamalek, the poor have been building in what is closer to Le Corbusier’s domino house than Fathy’s mud brick domed village houses. Pragmatism rather than identity-driven reactionary nostalgia is what drives the poor in how they build.

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[Le Corbusier’s domino house, a basic structure using concrete slabs and minimal support]

Fathy’s reaction to modernism as a style was to create a style of his own, the poor however are not concerned with style as much as they are with shelter. For now Fathy’s legacy is retained in the rural “Hassan Fathy Style" houses for the urban rich designed by his students. And that is fine. But the rest of the profession must move on and confront the red brick and concrete and offer new solutions and designs that could be adapted by the masses to maximize the utility and sustainability of Egypt’s new vernacular, before it is too late.

Further reading:

Hassan Fathy Revisited, Panayiota Pyla

Hassan Fathy, A Critical Review

Hassan Fathy and the Identity Debate, Nasser Rabbat

Heritage and Violence, Timothy Mitchell

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Lessons from elsewhere: India. From solar powered rickshaws to a canopy made of recycled oil cans, learn about Jugaad Urbanism — an exhibit featuring the work of urban designers inspired by the resourcefullness of ordinary citizens in India.