"No other project dominates this mature phase of the architect's work as much as the village of New Baris, in a way that is comparable to the notoriety of New Gourna twenty years before. There are so many contrasting factors between the two projects that it is beneficial to examine the parallels between them. Discovery of a large water well sixty kilometers south of the Kharga Oasis in 1963, which had been estimated to have the capacity to continuously irrigate up to 1000 acres of land, led the Organization for Desert Development to propose an agricultural community here at that time.
This remote and forbidding wilderness outpost, which is almost in the geographical centre of Egypt, was planned to initially house 250 families, of which more than half were intended to be farmers and the remainder to be service personnel. His previous experience with such a project, and particularly his ability to build it inexpensively, made Fathy the logical choice as the architect for New Baris.
Unlike his previous experience at New Gourna, however, where he could actually study and interview his "clients" and the houses and community buildings they had previously used, the potential occupants of New Baris were a totally unknown quantity. As he himself describes it: "Baris was an interesting problem in which I was to create all the parts of a community, to bring together in the best manner possible people whom I did not know. All that I had at my disposal were demographic, geographic and climatic surveys.
I had to provide the aesthetics, the sense of man in a space constructed by man". Without a visible clientele to design for, Fathy concentrated on a thorough study of both the traditional architecture and climate of the region. In addition to examining the fourth century AD mudbrick ruins of the necropolis of Bagawat nearby, he also closely observed the existing village of Kharga, where the material used, as well as the width and orientation of the streets and introverted forms of the houses effectively offset summer temperatures as high as 50C degrees that could potentially cause serious physiological problems for the people living there.
These considerations, along with the additional need for the cold storage of the fruits and vegetables grown by the community prior to shipping, and the impossibility of providing air-conditioning, led Fathy to focus on natural systems as the formative influence on the new village. For this reason, the souk, or market place, became the active heart of a community which spirals out to fit a rather steeply graded ridge on either side of it.
This souk, and other communal buildings around it, differ from their predecessors at New Gourna both in the more realistic choice of functions represented and the compactness of the open spaces between the buildings themselves. To solve the problem of the cold storage of perishables, Fathy turned to the physical solutions provided by the thermal mass of materials used and the manipulation of natural air movement as the only possible answers. By putting the storage areas below grade and refining the malkaf designs he had used previously by adding baffles, incrementally reduced airshafts and secondary towers to accelerate circulation, temperature reductions of up to 15C degrees were achieved.
His success in overcoming potentially insurmountable obstacles with previously untested natural methods, as well as the undeniable visual power of the resulting forms, make Baris a tectonic lesson for all architects today. The souk there is the best advocate yet for the architect's contention that true modernity comes from solving physiological and psychological needs well and not from the application of mere style.
This approach also continues throughout the domestic quarters of the village which, again unlike New Gourna, are organized along relatively linear north-south streets to take advantage of the shading that the buildings can cast on the streets throughout the day. In addition to this, the houses themselves are clustered around courtyards which are joined by taktaboosh to adjoining open areas and eventually to the pedestrian way itself, so that a combined convective system provides continuous airflow."
Originally content from James Steele's 1989 'The Hassan Fathy Collection. A Catalogue of Visual Documents at the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. Bern, Switzerland: The Aga Khan Trust for Culture, 54
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