Morocco – a journey to traditional building crafts

The exploration of human needs and requirements for architecture in arid climate zones asks for on-site visits. We can study the data but to get truly familiar with the reality of this very different environment, we need to feel and explore it personally. For us, it appears as an extreme environment – so the intention of this study trip was to understand how vernacular architecture responds to the climate, the specific topography and the societal needs and identity by using local material, sources and handcraft. Vernacular buildings are wide spread and traditional handcraft in old traditions is still well applied to many building projects of Morocco. So we can learn from the past to be able to use this knowledge for modern digital approaches.

This post, although comes with some delay due to a busy spring, gives a short summary of the sites we visited, when we went to Morocco for a 1-week study trip. We concentrated our tour on the Southeast of Morocco, started off from Marrakech, crossing the snowy Altlas Mountains and passing through Berber villages, valleys such as the Dades Valley and the Dra’a Valley, touched the Sahara and went back by famous places like Zagora, Agdez and Ouarzazate to Marrakech.

Here are our impressions along the tour.

The landscape topography varies from the High Atlas mountains to the Sahara desert according to the geological terrains we passed through. Along this climatic and geological variations, traditional architecture smoothly fits into the landscape, with material taken from the local resources. Material actually shaped the buildings and almost caused the buildings appear as a camouflage, as they are somehow barely distinguishable from the terrain.

Traditional building craft is still strong in use: many ancient Kasbah’s, old fortesses, used now and then as residential housing, are made of rammed earth construction techniques. Perfectly adapted for the local sources and climate, rammed earth is a meaningful choice in regards to sustainability and economics, but also in regards to thermal quality. The high thermal mass of these constructions, together with the well-designed room program and dynamics between various thermal zones, contributes greatly to balanced room temperature. Thermal zoning is achieved by colder and hotter areas, provided by open and shaded courtyards and perfected by openings to induce natural ventilation.

The earth and clay architecture of the deserts is contrasted to the tiled and sophisticated  richness of the islamic architecture.

After five days of desert travel, we return across the Atlas mountains to the market buzz and covered streets of Marrakech.

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