Mission in New Gourna: The Theatre in Danger



The international mission organized by the Association Save the Heritage of Hassan Fathy on the site of New Gourna village from 22 to 27 January has observed a number of preoccupying problems in several places of the village. However, the mission is particularly alarmed by the construction of two administrative buildings which has begun recently just behind the beautiful theatre built by Hassan Fathy. It is simply disconcerting that these construction works have been undertaken while the Association exists since a year and beneficiates from the support of H.E. Madam Suzanne Mubarak.    


This construction site is implemented on the vast esplanade planned by Hassan Fathy as an extension of the theatre to host popular celebrations. This extension was pertinent and constituted breathing area within the village pattern. It is therefore a sacrilege to consider this space as building site in respect to the work of the master and to the theatre in particular.  

In the perspective of the village’s revitalisation, this esplanade could easily be reused successfully as a space for popular and folkloric performances, as planned by Hassan Fathy. Indeed, this would increase the cultural offer of events presented in the theatre. This sector of the village must absolutely be conserved as an entertainment sector for the local population as well as the many tourists who visit and have always visited New Gourna.    


The construction of buildings with concrete structure and red brick filling with “hard” foundations, three meters away from the theatre, harms the natural soil instead of conserving its permeability. This implies the rising of water, a very serious problem in a village which suffers in its original parts from water.  


These buildings will have nothing to do architecturally with the ones of the village and will disfigure the skyline which is already much denatured in other places of New Gourna. This will irreparably affect the perception one has of this major building of Hasssan Fathy’s work. A characterless modern building has already been constructed behind the neighbouring house of the Mayor and clearly shows how the juxtaposition of this kind of inappropriate architecture seriously affects the harmonious constructions built by Hassan Fathy.


Moreover, the building site is managed brutaly without any care or regard to the two well preserved buildings of Hassan Fathy which are the theatre on one side and the Mayor’s House on the other. Big trucks bump into the mud brick walls without precaution and create serious damages. This should be stopped immediately two of the best conserved buildings of New Gourna fall one after the other. 


The mission is also worried about the future restoration works announced for the theatre which needs a restoration according to the rules. This building has been subjected to punctual interventions since the important and good restoration undertaken in 1982 by disciples of Hassan Fathy. Advice should be taken from Architects Adel Fahmy and Ahmad Hamid, students of Hassan Fathy who know exactly how to proceed for this restoration without modifying the work of Hassan Fathy.


In conclusion, the Association Save the heritage of Hassan Fathy which is concerned by the whole work of the renowned architect and presently particularly by the safeguarding of New Gourna village, urgently asks the highest Egyptian authorities to stop the constructions aforementioned.


An international symposium organized by Save the heritage of Hassan Fathy jointly with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina on the safeguarding of Hassan Fathy’s heritage and New Gourna in particular is already scheduled to be held on 30 – 31 May 2009 in Alexandria.




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