The ceremonial enclosure of Khasekhemwy–Hierakonpolis’ only standing monument is built entirely of sun-dried mud brick, with walls 5 meters (16.4 feet) thick and still preserved in places to its original imposing height of 9 meters (29.5 feet). It is the oldest freestanding mud-brick structure in the world. For the third time, it has been listed with the World Monument Fund as one of the world’s 100 most endangered monuments. Decorated on its exterior with a pattern of recessed paneling or niches and originally plastered white, it must have been a striking sight in its time. Almost 5,000 years later, it stands as a testament to the abilities of its builder, King Khasekhemwy, the last ruler of the Second Dynasty (ca. 2686 B.C.), but the reasons for which it was built remain a mystery.
An Architecture for People: The Complete Works of Hassan Fathy reviews the ideas and designs of Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy (1900-1989), best known for his striking Architecture for the Poor (University of Chicago, 1973), which described his efforts to create the village of New Gourna for 7,000 displaced Egyptian peasants known as the Gourni. Fathy sought to empathize with their lifeworld and to find architectural means whereby the new village would sustain their traditional way of life yet at the same time make life better by drawing on sustainable technology.
Steele, an architect himself, presents Fathy’s built projects and discusses the design philosophy underlying his work. Steele’s book is a tribute to Fathy as a compassionate designer and as a master craftsman who held strongly to traditional values and beliefs at a time when the historical amnesia and standardization of Modernist architecture dominated.
The Hassan Fathy web site is the first, and perhaps the most comprehensive, website on the great Egyptian architect. The site documents 105 projects with photos, essays and drawings and is available in English, French and Arabic.
Architecture for the Poor: An Experiment in Rural Egypt describes Hassan Fathy’s plan for building the village of New Gourna, near Luxor, Egypt, without the use of more modern and expensive materials such as steel and concrete. Using mud bricks, the native technique that Fathy learned in Nubia, and such traditional Egyptian architectural designs as enclosed courtyards and vaulted roofing, Fathy worked with the villagers to tailor his designs to their needs. He taught them how to work with the bricks, supervised the erection of the buildings, and encouraged the revival of such ancient crafts as claustra (lattice designs in the mudwork) to adorn the buildings.