- Series: Phoenix Books
- Paperback: 366 pages
- Publisher: University of Chicago Press (December 15, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0226239160
- ISBN-13: 978-0226239163
- Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #141,197 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Architecture for the Poor: An Experiment in Rural Egypt (Phoenix Books)
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New Paria, Utah
Mr. Fathy's journey through Egypt starts off with one endeavor - how do you build a sustainable home for a poor peasant family? As he answers that question with the rediscovery of ancient building techniques (using mud bricks) he realizes that the peasant's plight is not a monolithic problem with housing, but also one that is tied to education, employment, and public health. Fathy courageously takes on all of these issues, realizing that he must not simply view himself as an architect of homes.
His main focus is on the village of Gourna, and building a sustainable village for the Gournis, where they will have schools for their children, a vibrant apprenticeship program for enabling employment, and access to clean water (the part on Bilharzia was especially fascinating). Through his journey, he meets obstacles and allies in this process. The most baffling aspect of this book is the government bureaucracy that hobbles Mr. Fathy's experiment from its inception.
I recommend this read for anyone seeking to work internationally in foreign aid or disaster relief. It speaks volumes about the good and bad roles that a government can play in speeding up a well-intentioned project. The book also teaches great lessons in the merits of learning the culture and habits of a people before assuming to know what is best for their society. The technical aspects of this book were a bit difficult for me to get through, but most of that is left in the Appendix at the end, so that it does not trip up the layman (like me).
Merry Christmas, Niti.
Sometimes a book is so ahead of its time it can sink beneath the waves before it's appreciated. Such a book was 'Architecture for the Poor', written in 1969 and originally published by the Ministry of Culture in Cairo. Written with the help of a fellowship from the Adlai Stevenson Institute of International Affairs it was published in America by the University of Chicago in 1973 and in a second impression in 1976. But even then it was only taken up by the fringes of the solar energy movement as a neat idea for a different culture and climate. Currently its out of print. The author died in 1989 having received some praise in his home country of Egypt but having seen no actions to take up his ideas for helping peasants take control of their lives by taking charge of the creation of their homes and communities.
Dr Fathy was officially an architect but his talents as an amateur anthropologist, sociologist, psychologist, inventor, and economist are what make him great. His holistic approach to solving the housing problems of a poverty level community (and his vision to see how they could be applied to a whole country) takes in the gamut from reviving the craft of mud brick making (along with the traditional masonry building of vaults and domes to roof simple mud structures) through to solving the problems of parasitic worm infections that debilitate entire populations infected through their water supply systems. Every aspect of village life receives his attention: how to adapt an Austrian heating system to make a cooking stove more efficient, how to share a house with cows more hygienically, where to do laundry, how to build a better school, how to provide an alternative income from tomb robbing for the peasants, and how to tactfully delouse peasants using the luxury of a Turkish bathhouse rather than the chilly chemicals of a government mandated cold shower.
His appreciation that some inefficiencies are functional within a society makes the changes he does make even more impressive. Fetching water from the village pump in water jars is one of the few occasions a girl has to be seen out in public in Moslem society. Providing running water to every house would derail the marriage process within that society. However he is happy to create plumbing inside the home ? running pipes to the kitchen from rooftop storage jars across the middle of rooms, so if they leak the occupants will have to fix them not ignore the drips until the wall is eroded. Fathy's changes are not just improvements to make a peasants life more like a modern westerners life ? that is impossible given the astonishingly low income of these people. They are changes that make life easier or healthier while striving to maintain traditions and strengthen society because they understand what is behind the tradition. For example splitting the village up into single home farmsteads would expose the individual families to roaming bands of thieves, so it's necessary to let houses huddle together for protection and for cows ? more valuable than children ? to stay inside the house.
Yet this book is not just about practicalities of house or village building ? it's also about the need for beauty in the life of even the poorest amongst us. Dr Fahey's desire to restore an appreciation for craftsmanship to all members of society especially by restoring the ability of the poor to control the creation of their own homes is inspiring. An architect can help the process along only if he or she can learn to see life outside the urban world of modern design. This book shows how an architect with an academic education can be of some help to a peasant faced with grinding poverty but only if equipped with the ability to move to the world of that peasant and see how alien western technological solutions can be.
Fahey's ideas are not just applicable to Egyptian society, reading this book made me aware of the similarities of problems faced by peoples in many middle eastern countries, particularly Afghanistan which is trying to rebuild itself and could use Dr Fahey's techniques to rehouse its population cheaply and empoweringly. It's even possible to extend his ideas to other hot dry climates such as Southern California, and the desert states of the US, to Mediterranean countries and to many parts of Africa, South America, and Australia. Wherever issues of building cost or those of insulation, shelter and energy efficiency in a hot dry climate need addressing Dr Fahey's solutions should be considered. This book needs to be reprinted; clamor for copies and see if we can make it the bestseller it should have been the first time around.