This investigation is an attempt to examine the concept of the architectural system in the work of two prominent modernist architects, Frank Lloyd and Le Corbusier, and the renowned traditionalist architect, Hassan Fathy. Although the three architects worked in different places, America, France, and Egypt and their architectural approaches ranged from modern to traditional, their ideals were similar to some extent.
Although the architectural ideologies of the three architects were not similar, their main objectives were to reorient architecture in the direction of improving human living conditions. While Wright and Le Corbusier occupied themselves with improving the urban conditions, Fathy’s main concern was to improve the life conditions of the rural poor in Egypt and then in the world.
Both Wright and Le Corbusier were eager to achieve their objective by using fresh resources, whereas Fathy was keen to revive the past, however, the similarity of social intent equals a similarity of architectural intention. The concept of the architectural system, which offered the basis for creating a satisfying architecture, was as fundamental to both Le Corbusier and Wright as to Fathy. Both sought an integral co-ordination of structure and form refined by aesthetics.
Image credit: Villa Savoye, France, by Le Corbusier
In his houses of the 1940s, Fathy had been approaching a similar consciousness of independent systems combined with a symbolic architectural system. Just as Le Corbusier created a new and modern architectural system depending on the opportunities afforded by the new materials and new ways of building, Wright also formulated a new architecture according to an architectural system with his ‘Prairie houses’. Fathy also developed his own system of construction through the principles of the Islamic-Arabic house and the Egyptian vernacular.
Image credit: Robie House, USA, by Frank Lloyd Wright
The architectural style of both Wright and Le Corbusier was to be achieved through standardisation, which implies the separation of building elements into independent systems. It is not surprising, then, to find that Fathy’s houses also were manipulated by coordinated systems of almost independent elements such as the majaz (entrance), the qa‘ah (reception Hall), the dorqa‘ah, (central part of Qa’a)the ’iwan (recessed sitting area), and the courtyard. In fact, these repetitive elements in Fathy’s work represent a vernacular version of standardisation.
Image credit: Akil Sami House, Dahshur, Egypt, by Hassan Fathy
Undoubtedly, the similarity in methods of design and the concept of the architectural system of Wright, Le Corbusier, and Fathy were not acknowledged because they had worked in different contexts. But there is no doubt that, twentieth century modernist architects became aware that tradition should not be totally rejected, but should be considered a rich source from which one can create new forms.
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