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AN ARCHITECTURE FOR THE POOR
A MODERNIST EXPERIMENT IN RURAL EGYPT
2006 – 2008

Exhibited at:
Mia Sundberg Galleri, Stockholm 2008, An Architecture for the Poor
Kristianstads Konsthall 2009, Winning a battle, losing the War

 

 

The photographic serie An Architecture for the Poor researches the work of Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy and his experiments for durable constructions. Fathys vision was to design a solving of the housing problems for the country’s poor and traditionally nomadic population. As being a social engaged architect he let construct the ideal city New Gurna, close to the ancient Valley of Kings, as an utopian experiment. The city were intended to generate new cities from a cooperative form, and that also had the intention to be selffulfilled.

At the same time the procect was an adoption of the international modernism Fathy also wanted it to be a potential alternative based upon Islamic construction traditions. He critisized the large scale suburbs built environments in the western world, and the problematics in adopt these for Egyptian circumstances.

At all costs, I have always wanted to avoid the attitude too often adopted by professional architects and planners: that the community has nothing worth the professionals' consideration, that all its problems can be solved by the importation of the sophisticated urban approach to building. If possible, I want to bridge the gulf that separates folk architecture from architect's architecture. Unhappily, the modern architect of the Third world … accepts every facility offered to him by modern technology, with no thought of its effect on the complex web of his culture. Unaware that civilization is measured by what one contributes to culture, not by what one takes from others, he continues to draw upon the works of Western architects in Europe and North America, without assessing the value of his own heritage.
- Hassan Fathy *

The projects that Fathy embarked upon were doomed to failure. Fathy was interested in using local traditional materials and in collectivising the production and planning of his new towns. He wanted the residents to have a say in the creation of their town, and to have a role in the building process through the dissemination of knowledge of traditional crafts and building skills. The intentions for the housing projects failed because of local mistrust and lack of governmental support. They remain as crumbling but still inhabited remnants, the remains of a potential alternative to the adoption of western modernism. The photographs in the serie documents of an architectural vision centred not on an inflexible all-consuming globalism but on the possibilities of the local and the place-specific.

An Architecture for the Poor were first exhibited at Mia Sundberg Galleri in 2008 as a serie of photographs separated as three indivudual parts; the modernistist city of New Gurna, the elderly village Gurna and the urban plan for Bariz al-Gedida in the Kharga oasis in the Libyan desert. The city of New Gurna was meant to replace the Gurna village, where the inhabitants was said to make its living from looting the graves at the Valley of Kings (The city is situated on top of the large grave field at the Necropolis hill). Instead of living in the new developed city, the population returned back to their homes in Gurna. The photographic serie represent the places/cities as they appears now, adapted to the needs of the users who lives there today.

The project were developed into a book with the same title that were published by Mia Sundberg Galleri in 2008, and contained a selection of photographs from the serie and essays by Sarah Rifky and Mats Eriksson. The book is available from here and from the following book shops; Konst-ig, Moderna Musset book shop, Malmö Konsthall, Göteborgs Konstmuseum in Sweden and from Printed matter in New York, USA.  

*Natural Energy and Vernacular Architecture: Principles and Examples with Reference to Hot Arid Climates, 1986