There are times in architecture when we have to set aside Western conventions and observe a way to create spaces that solve the problems of contemporary society while not disrespecting traditional means of expressing culture and heritage.
Walking the streets of Marrakech, we were faced with the realisation that women were not necessarily regarded in the same way as men, which is understandable considering the great reliance on tradition and religion in Moroccan day to day life. This was evident in the lack of women occupying the public sphere, with cafes filled with either tourists or men and the fact that in most cases, women had to be chaperoned outside of the house. Men and women seem to move in separate spheres with women being expected to wait on their husbands or male dominants, for economic stability.
It was with this background that we began to question how we could liberate women through means of spaces that encourage progress but also allow for the practice of traditions and culture in a considerate fashion.
The Sculpted Veil project explores a play on the role of the woman in Moroccan society and her relationship with the greater world. It was desired that the architecture would reflect a safe and inspiring retreat that plays on the idea of the veil through the integration of screens, the succession of private and public spaces and their relationship with materials. This was to be done through the architectural concept of weaving which seeks to weave together various aspects of the design including program, space and context.
We imagined that the users of the proposed design would be mainly local or disadvantaged women with other outsider people free to visit during designated hours through means of a workshop and cafe. We would like to provide at least three women with residence and skills in order to create a life for themselves that doesn’t neccessarily rely solely on the men in their lives. With this is mind we decided that we wanted to further highlight the concept of weaving by setting up a work environment for a women’s weaving corporation which would need spaces such as a workshop, living accomodation and a cafe.
i. Tamnougalt Old City
‘Meeting point’ in Talchelhit, the underutilised old village kasbahs have potential to become a special part of the town where life and rich cultural history encouage a community of open-minded thinkers. Tamnougalt was on the main trade route between Timbuktu and Marrakech as well as other main trade centres such Fes and Casablanca but as the Portugese and Spanish began to expand towards the Atlantic, the route began to disintegrate and the town shifted its focus to other economic strategies. Although the valley and the town of Tamougalt are rich in cultural and architectural history, it is concerning that these traits are underutilised by the local residents and prospective developers, resulting in a ‘brain drain’ and lack of upkeep.
ii. Draa Valley
The Draa valley is famous for its growth of dates, growing more than 18 varieties. Fruit trees and vegetables are the main crops. With the easy access, it is suggested that the proposed cafe in our design would be able to source some produce from what is grown in the valley in an effort to encourage more community action and activate low modality network pathways along the edge of the town.
iii. Draa River
An important feature of the site, the Draa river provides the neccessary water for the irrigaion of horticulture along its edge. Relatively arid due to over extraction, the river has influenced the number of people settled with water becoming a huge issue due to the creation of the nearby dam. The presence of water in the site area is of great convinience when choosing the site as it would provide the women with an easy access area to collect water and perform washing and dyeing tasks in the weaving process.
iv. Chosen Site
The chosen site is along the outskirts of the old village of Tamnougalt where a connection between the river, the valley and the architecture can be established. Coordinated efforts to increase the people’s awareness of the worth of their ancient homes and the fact that we want to explore rehabilitation and maintenance programs, encourages the community to play an active role in shaping the development of their cultural landscape in a meaningful and respectful way.
The direction that should be faced when a Muslim prays during salat. In this case, qibla is located south-east-east from the proposed site and plays a large role in the placement of direction in certain private living areas provided for the women.
Marrakech is located five hours north-west of Tamnougalt. With the aridity of the river affecting the production of agricultural sustenence int he town, there have been strong migratory flows towards northern Europe and bigger, more modern cities such as Marrakech and Casablanca.
vii. Tamnougalt Main Square
The market and main assembly point of Tamnougalt, was considered a lively and upbeat area when trade routes were strong. Now with the move away from ancient towns, the square has become an underutilised source of public involvement in the area but will be reactivated through the network entrance to our proposal.
The Final Design
With strong curves running along the length of the site and transitioning between spaces, the individual is taken on a journey through the architecture with spaces moulding and weaving into each other while maintaining their integrity. More private areas are reserved for the darker back of the site while a lighter and more flowy atmospshere is reserved to the south with wonderful views to the valley. All the programs come together with subtle inclusion of in-between spaces and a play on light and heavy construction. Rammed earth walls rendered in lighter shades of peach would contrast to the more delicate and gentle construction of glazing and custom designed timber plywood screens that control the speckle light effect indoors and play on the tectonics of the mashrabiya.
The entry to the proposed design is from an opening in the streets of the ancient kasbah, leading the individual down towards the valley. As the visitor is carried through the sight, they are prompted along by pivoting shopfronts which would display the rugs and carpets woven by the women working in the establishment. Just ahead is the cafe which has views to both the valley and the the shop, allowing for a more static atmosphere where people can watch dynamic movement before their eyes.
The ramp between the shop and cafe twists and weaves down to the ground floor spaces, reserved for the workshop and private accommodation spaces with subtle transitions connecting each space in a variety of ways. A private courtyard sits alongside the accommodation giving the ladies a private and secluded space to relax, pray and enjoy.
Tapering in the walls and slit windows directs movement through the space as well as sun paths, highlighting strong reflections of light on opposite walls without affecting the thermal capacity of the spaces inside. The pivoting of doors is reintroduced in the workshop with screens opening up to the valley allowing for more outdoor space to perform weaving duties.
A main part of the project was the creation of a screen that would control the amount of light entering into the space while still evoking the weaving and private/public concepts. The screen plays on the manipulation and sewing of flex mahogany timber, testing its limits to achieve a softer woven look that evokes rather than represents weaving. The round interior of each pod allows for light to bounce off its surfaces, creating more of a diffuse effect. The size of the openings can be adjusted depending on the placement of the screen with larger openings facing the east and smaller openings facing south and west. Overall, the screen aims to play on views and light, creating a distinguishing feature between public and private spaces and acting as a transitionary path for the individual.
All these elements have come together to create an inviting and positive space for Moroccan women and people from all around the world, a place where they can feel safe, accepted and in control of their future. The proposed design tackled a cultural issue that was a challenge to solve but nonetheless an important lesson in discovery and empathy. Through careful consideration and experimentation, we were able to create a design that not only responded to different climatic conditions but also to carrying social and cultural contexts.