A Tale of Two Houses: Environmental Quality,
Sustainability, and Indoor Comfort Inside
Hassan Fat'hy's Mit Rehan
and a Contemporary Villa in Cairo, Egypt

Contemporary Villa in Cairo, Egypt
Author: Ihab Elzeyadi
School: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Faculty Advisor: Professor Mike Utzinger

This case study won first prize in the 1996 Vital Signs Student Case Study Competition. The author of the case study is Ihab Elzeyadi, a graduate student in the School of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. The field work was conducted during July and August of 1996 and the report was written that fall. The faculty advisor for the study was Michael Utzinger.


This study will examine the perceived environmental quality and indoor comfort in two houses; the first is a neo-traditional house designed by Hassan Fat'hy with large thermal mass clustered around a courtyard and the second is a contemporary modern house with low thermal conductance using more sophisticated thermal insulation technologies. Based on the literature review it is hypothesized that the neo-traditional house designed by Hassan Fat'hy would have better thermal performance and hence better conservation of energy levels.

Employing a diverse number of research instruments in the form of group interviews with the buildings' occupants, formal and informal interviews with the designers, and the use of temperature and relative humidity sensors and dataloggers, data was collected to document the buildings' performance during the month of August. Results showed that the two buildings performed similarly in terms of their indoor thermal behavior. However, the traditional house by Fat'hy use local and recycled materials resulting in a lower embodied energy. This may shed light on the importance of using local and sustainable building materials that conserve energy in their production and use in future designs. Implications could provide a better understanding of the thermal behavior of traditional structures as well as life cost analysis of energy use in buildings. Findings and field interviews suggest future research related to the users thermal associations towards building's form, style, and construction materials.

Methodology of the Investigation

To test these hypotheses this investigation employed a case study approach. This approach involves the intense observation of each single case (dwelling or unit of analysis) separately. The purpose is to analyze the phenomena that constitutes the life cycle of each "unit" with the aim of establishing generalizations about the population to which the unit belongs (Cohen & Manion, 1994). Both quantitative and qualitative methods of gathering data were used. These included: 

1. Recording the buildings' thermal performance for one week during the month of August, 1996 (Note that this limitation is due to the researchers limited stay in Cairo, Egypt). This was achieved by programming a set of temperature and relative humidity "HOBO" dataloggers located inside and outside the houses and in different indoor spaces. 

2. Group Interviews, which were usually informal in nature and carried out with the entire family occupying the dwelling unit. 

3. Intensive formal interviews with architects and designers who were involved in the design and/or supervision of these houses (since Hassan Fat'hy and Ali Nassar are dead, interviews was conducted with some of their apprentices and students who worked with them during the design of the studied houses). 

4. Personal formal interviews with some of the house occupants and Users (e.g. House Porter, Cleaners, etc.). 

5. Photography and field notes were employed to support the data collected and played a positive role in documenting both physical traces and human behavior. Both of these instruments were supplemental and they added a visual and written documentation to the investigator observations.

The Settings of the Investigation

After a careful archival survey of the private houses designed and built by Hassan Fat'hy (see Richards et al., 1986), Mit Rehan was selected as an example. The criteria for the selection was based on: (1) being moderate in size, (2) a single family residence, (3) composed of two residential floors which helps in testing temperature fluctuation in the indoor volume, (4) containing rich traditional architectural elements, and (5) could be accessible to the investigator during the short visit to Cairo. After the researcher was granted access to the Mit Rehan facility, a modern contemporary villa was chosen for the comparative analysis based on the similarity of its size and floor area to Mit Rehan. The two settings are described below.

The two settings are described below.

Cairo Villa

Figure 4a: Cairo Villa - Main Living Area with dining room in the background. (39K JPEG)

This medium single family dwelling was designed and built in 1961-1962 and took more than a year for the completion of its construction. The house was built for a government official and his family. It is composed of two separate floors designed as two apartment houses. Reinforced concrete skeleton and common brick in-fill comprised the main building material used for the house. Contrary Mit Rehan (following paragraph) the house has a small thermal mass (1/3 of Mit Rehan's thermal mass). To minimize heat loss and gains from the roof, an 80 mm heat insulation (foam core) is used to insulate the concrete roof from direct solar heat gains. Urban planning guidelines resulted in narrow setbacks between the house and the surrounding neighbors. This helped create a micro-climate effect that reduced solar heating of the north and west facades.

Figure 4b: Cairo Villa - Exterior View. (39K JPEG)

Figure 4c: Cairo Villa - Interior View. (39K JPEG)

Mit Rehan

Figure 5a: Mit Rehan - Courtyard View. (39K JPEG)

The house was designed and constructed in 1980-1981 for the Kazroni family. It is located on the Sakkar road, outside Cairo, Egypt. This is considered the most stately domed and vaulted house designed and built by Hassan Fat'hy. The house is built with limestone. The project required 272 building days and was supervised by a young man of the owner's family. The house is also characterized by its massive solid walls (500 mm thick) and its reliance on a large thermal mass to provide sufficient protection against the harsh hot and dry weather of the region. The house is located in the middle of a vast garden, thus limiting the microclimate and shading effects supplied by neighboring facilities. The use of local materials and lattice wood work resulted in an aesthetically pleasing architecture that relied mainly on primitive human resources and common building technologies. 

Figure 5b: Mit Rehan - View inside den.
Figure 5c: Mit Rehan - Exterior View.
Figure 6a: Cairo Villa - Ground floor plan.

Figure 6b: Cairo Villa - Front Elevation
Figure 7b: Mit Rehan - Building Section.
Figure 7a: Mit Rehan - Floor Plan
A Tale of Two Houses - Introduction


Biography - Projects - Research - Discussions - Articles - Bibliography