Reconnect with the architecture of the ancestors

The Beirut Art Film Festival (BAFF) closes its 7th edition this Sunday at 8 p.m. with the online screening (via Zoom) of It is not enough that God be with the poor by Borhane Alaouié, who launched this same season. A 70-minute documentary in French, made in 1978, which talks about the role played by the Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy (1900-1989) in the propagation of vernacular architecture both in Egypt and in the Middle East.

What is the architecture of the poor?

This film is the fruit of the Lebanese director’s visit to Egypt in the late 70s, when he met the famous Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy and filmed various architectural works in the country, focusing on what is called ” the architecture of the poor” and its socio-economic effects. We can see and understand in this very beautiful documentary how the architects who studied in Western countries and returned to the country have distorted the face of Cairo and cut it off from its ancestral traditions. How the new Cairo contrasts with the rural habitat, combining the efforts of the “poor” peasants who build with their own hands. Alaouié, with his deep gaze, places man in his environment and emphasizes materials: how brick survives cement and how the peasants were able to build “solid” without spending money. “It is enough that certain architects who have the ‘knowledge’ guide them by drawing their constructions”, he points out, and that craftsmen, masons and carpenters work with engineers in order to learn techniques such as water management… Since the dawn of time, the Egyptian peasant knew how to create a coherence between the natural elements and his dwelling. The modern architect has destroyed this coherence.

Talking about Hassan Fathy with Salma Samar Damluji

Hassan Fathy, recipient of the first alternative Nobel Prize in 1980, graduated from the polytechnic school of Cairo University in 1926. Although he studied the theories of the modern movement, he always wanted to anchor himself in the traditions of the indigenous people to better overcome them. He has thus used old local and ancestral construction techniques which he adapts to modern constraints and the new needs of contemporary life. He designed his first mud brick building in 1930 and worked in the school buildings department, where he discovered the beauty of Nubian architecture. From 1949 to 1952, Hassan Fathy worked at the Ministry of Education, in the construction department, and later served as director of the architecture department of the Faculty of Fine Arts in Cairo.

In 1973, he recounted his experience as an architect in Gournah, with the publication of his 300-page story, Construire avec le peuple (published in 1999 in French by Actes Sud), and became known internationally. Hassan Fathy has always worked closely with people to adapt his designs to their needs. He teaches them how to work with mud bricks, supervises the construction of buildings and encourages the revival of ancient decorative techniques. He became one of the most outstanding architects of his generation in Africa, demonstrating that it is possible to build for the poor and teaching people to build for themselves.

The projection speaks of his unique work. This will be followed by a question and answer session with Salma Samar Damluji who worked with Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy in 1975/76 and later in 1984/85.

A graduate of the AA School of Architecture (1977) and the Royal College of Art (1987) in London, the architect, author and professor holds the MA Binladin Chair for Architecture in the Islamic World at American University of Beirut since 2013. Elected member of the Academy of Architecture in 2017, she received the Silver Restoration Award from the Academy of Architecture in 2015 and the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture in 2012. The foundation she created with colleagues from Yemen, Daw’an Architecture, received the Holcim Award for Sustainable Construction, Middle East Africa Silver in 2020.

To register: https://beirutartfilmfestival.org/booking-2/

The Beirut Art Film Festival (BAFF) closes its 7th edition this Sunday at 8 p.m. with the online screening (via Zoom) of It is not enough that God be with the poor by Borhane Alaouié, who launched this same season. A 70-minute documentary in French, produced in 1978, which talks about the role played by the Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy (1900-1989) in the propagation…

Reconnect with the architecture of the ancestors