The cities we need

Fekri Hassan, Tuesday 9 Nov 2021

The launch of a new initiative calling for greener, safer, and more sustainable cities sheds light on the works of the late Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy

New Gourna with all its facilities, including a mosque and an open-air theatre near the houses desig
New Gourna with all its facilities, including a mosque and an open-air theatre near the houses designed by Hassan Fathy

On 31 October every year, United Nations-Habitat (UN-Habitat) celebrates World Cities Day. UN-Habitat works with partners to build inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable cities and communities in order to reduce inequality, discrimination and poverty.


This year, Luxor was chosen as the site of the global celebration of the day. The theme selected was “Adapting Cities for Climate Resilience” as a result of the increasing pace of climate change manifested in unprecedented global disasters including violent storms, devastating floods, and wild fires. Climate change is menacing the world’s water scarcity, food security, and economy.

On this occasion, and in partnership with the World Urban Campaign, UN-Habitat, the International Union of Architects (IUA), and the Habitat Professional Forum, the Hassan Fathy Centre for Architecture and Sustainable Development in New Gourna organised seminars and activities highlighting the pioneering contributions of the Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy in the field of adapting houses to the climate and the local environment as well as the participation of local communities in building affordable houses.

This, as well as his efforts to link housing with cultural and economic development in the 1940s, earned him global recognition, and he became a source of inspiration for architects in all countries of the world. This was clear in the message from Thomas Vonier, president of the IUA, during the seminar on Sustainable Architecture and Development organised by the Hassan Fathy Initiative for Architecture and Sustainable Development in February in Gourna.

 Vonier said then “that many generations of architects have learned from his works and from him personally, and his message is not only limited to architects because his works are a message to all of humanity. It is a message that offers hope for the world we live in now.”

Within the framework of the World Urban Campaign (WUC) launched by UN-Habitat, the first campaign in the world to promote “The City We Need Now” was inaugurated in New Gourna, designed by Hassan Fathy to be a model for building with people and for people everywhere in the world. Sandeep Chachra, chair of the steering committee of the WUC, called for countries to commit to providing the necessary funding to provide a decent life for the poor who are suffering from the harmful effects of climate change.

The objectives of the campaign include highlighting the features of “The City We Need Now” that will provide us with a better life through improvements in infrastructure and the provision of decent housing for all, job opportunities to combat poverty, a vibrant economic climate, creative educational and cultural activities, appropriate means of transportation, health services, clean water and sanitation, while also providing security, peace, equality, and ensuring fruitful coexistence between different groups of society.

“The City We Need Now” also includes addressing climate change, preserving the environment, providing green spaces, and the participation of government agencies, people, and the civil, professional, production and service sectors to manage the city through comprehensive and integrated governance to achieve the desired goals.

The launch of the campaign from New Gourna was accompanied by the issuance of the first guide map of this village and introducing Hassan Fathy and his contributions to the children of the community through storytelling, a documentary film, and a drawing workshop about the houses that Hassan Fathy built. The activities also included a tour to inspect the restoration carried out by the Urban Coordination Agency and the UNESCO Office in Cairo and an exhibition of pictures of the village buildings.

Participants in the seminars attending in person and via Zoom included Jyoti Hosagrahar, deputy director of the World Heritage Centre at UNESCO, and several officials from UN-Habitat including Raft Tuts, Sebastian Lange, and Sandeep Chacra, as well as Jose Luis Cortes, the president of the IUA, Mona Radi, president of the Habitat Professional Forum (HPF), and Christine Auclair, coordinator of the WUC. They also included Eric Huybrechts, deputy director of the International Scientific Committee on Earth Architecture, Amanda Rivera Vidal, vice president of ICOMOS-ISCEAH, the International Council on Monuments and Sites committee on earthern architectural heritage, and In-Souk Cho, vice-president of the ICOMOS-ISCARSAH committee on the analysis and restoration of structures.

Experts participating in the seminars included Tarek Attia, director of the National Centre for Building and Housing Research, Soheir Hawass, professor of architecture and urban design at the Faculty of Engineering at Cairo University, Dalila Al-Kerdani, professor of architecture and urban planning at Cairo University, Hend Farouh, professor of environment and sustainable urban development at the Housing and Building National Research Centre, architect Ahmed Sedki, Satprem Maini, president of the Auroville Earth Institute in India, Maria Brown, president of the Society for the Architecture of Earth, Energy, Heritage, and Environment in Spain (ESTEPA), architect Nabil Ghali and Hoda Al-Masri, vice president of the African Union of Architects.