Village Design


Hassan Fathy



If the architect is to justify his authority in shaping what his fellow-men will live in, his excuse must be that he can surround them with beauty. In designing a village he has need of the greatest care to satisfy the psychological needs of the peasant, translate them into spatial terms and determine objectively the sort of space that is most beneficial to him.

The designer has to keep in mind that, during the day, the countryman is working in the open air within the green of his fields and the more distant landscape. At night, darkness descends upon his daytime world, and his need is to come home to the warmth, comfort and companionship of his own house and those of his neighbours. Here he needs a completely different environment from that of the day, one in which he feels protected and isolated from the vastness of the outside world with its pressures. There he can relax mentally and physically.

To achieve this, it is clear that the design of the village in relation to the way of life and feeling for space is all-important. The village should not possess a cold geometrical open layout of straight lines, in which the roads give the feeling that they are constantly leading into the open waste of the countryside. They should close in on themselves, always giving the feeling of a closed and united community.

Roads of varying widths should open occasionally into internal vistas of squares and open spaces with buildings of various yet harmonious design, like variations of tempo, modulation and volume in music.

Spatial harmony is analogous to musical harmony. As the eye travels over a complex building or some complex group of buildings following the lines formed by the conjunction of plane surfaces, they may proceed smoothly, according to expectation or be brought up short by some disagreeable surprise. Just as the consonance of vibrations makes musical notes sound well together, so do certain consonances of proportion look well in a building. This is not to say that a building or a village should consist entirely of obviously expected lines and forms. Agreeable surprises are welcome in all arts, for the expectations should not be satisfied too simply; the observer – or the listener – should be teased a little.

The rules of aesthetics in music and architecture are very similar. In the beautiful close of Wells Cathedral, the town square ascends movement by movement to the splendid climax of the dominant form of the cathedral itself. But in music there are rules for the ordering of harmony and counterpoint, while in architecture the quality of rightness must be felt intuitively. In the absence of any established canons of composition, the architect must rely upon his own sensibility to order his light and shadow, mass and void, plain surface and decoration, so that the total design should present the same succession of themes, of crescendos and climaxes, the alteration of calm and animated passages, etc., to produce town plans to which visual modulation gives constant variety and beauty within an overall unity of conception. Such designing raises planning to the level of composition and artistic expression, and by its example creates or at least demonstrates the as-yet-unwritten rules of visual harmony in architectural and town and village design.



This is an extract from ‘Comprehensive Design for Rural Living’, 1969. In: Hassan Fathy: Earth & Utopia by Salma Samar Damluji and Viola Bertini, published by Laurence King Publishing, 2018.

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Published here with kind permission from Laurence King Publishing.