ARCENCPostings

Saturday, November 14, 2015

What happens when you let an architect, a member of the urban ruling class resident in Alexandria and Paris, decide what would be good for the people of an upper Egypt he knew next to nothing about?


https://www.linkedin.com/groups/2938384/2938384-6069210457472794624

What happens when you let an architect, a member of the urban ruling class resident in Alexandria and Paris, decide what would be good for the people of an upper Egypt he knew next to nothing about?

For a start, they totally rejected his concept of their new surroundings as a sort of pastoral hymn to the simple, 'authentic' existence of peasant farmers. The Qurnawi were not and are not farmers, or peasants. They see themselves proudly as Arab and look down on the Egyptian fellahin that till the soil as an inferior form of life. They live flexibly, keeping animals (now cars and trucks) and living by their wits like true sons of the desert. The 'settled' life he tried to impose on them, they have subtly deconstructed . . .

Undeterred by this, UNESCO is dispatching a team of experts to restore and maintain New Qurna village: http://www.egyptindependent.com/news/unesco-save-new-qurna-village-luxor The rationale being that the village has a unique heritage value and 'reflects the grandeur of Hassan Fathy’s architecture, which is taught in many universities abroad', offering 'a global model as to how to build housing that commensurates with the surrounding environmental conditions and gives solutions to housing problems for low-income social classes'. .How they square that with the fact that Fathy's structures have a high maintenance requirement and were in addition designed to use 'ethnic' materials like Nile mud and white straw which now verge on the unobtainable and are certainly no longer within a poor man's budget, is hard to say.

The design of the village was inspired by the winding alleyways of Coptic Cairo - anything more counterintuitive in the South with its individual, free-standing houses would be hard to find - and Fathy was probably wrong to indulge his obsession with Mamluk-style domes in a part of the country where people associate domes specifically with tombs - and Sufi saints. But the greatest damage to the project's chances of success was caused by the forced relocation itself, an act now repeated at Sheikh Abd el Qurna and el Khokha.