The architect designed a school for the village of Aït Benhaddou in Morocco that combines sustainable construction methods with tradition. Her design relies heavily on a local building material – earth.
Aït Benhaddou in central Morocco at the foot of the Atlas Mountains is world famous and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. Although few people know the name of this village, they have seen it, because it has served quite a few times as a setting for blockbuster productions like “Gladiator” and “Game of Thrones.” Built between the 12th and 16th centuries, the buildings of the picturesque village center are created from rammed earth and clay bricks. The village is one of the last settlements in Morocco still displaying this form of traditional earthen construction. The North African country has a long tradition of building with earth, and this can also be seen in the modern district of Aït Benhaddou. But here, many of the new buildings are designed after European models and are often poorly suited to the local conditions and climate.
There is a generation of young architects who are working with the old construction traditions today. This includes Fatima-azzahra Bendahmane (pictured, left). She studied in Rabat and received her Master of Architecture at the Polytechnic University in Barcelona. In 2015 she founded the architecture firm Ecoactiva in Casablanca, which specializes in passive design. This architectural design strategy takes advantage of ambient conditions such as solar radiation, cool night air, or strong differences in air pressure to provide comfortable interiors while minimizing energy consumption. With the construction of a sustainable school and adult training center in Aït Benhaddou, the architect is realizing a holistic vision of “healthy architecture” intended to benefit the region at every level.
The project site measures 2,000 square meters, while the total usable area of the buildings will be 432 square meters. Part of the funding for the construction is being provided by the regional council of Draa-Tafilalt. It is dedicated to improving living conditions in Morocco, with a strong focus on education and sustainability. That’s why the foundation has been involved in the Eco-Schools Program of the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) since 2006. The program acknowledges schools that provide environmental education and address ecological issues as part of everyday school life. To supplement the government funding, around 40 percent of the cost must be covered through private fundraising. Because complete funding was not secured from the beginning, the architect decided to design the project as several individual buildings – so as not to risk an unfinished building should the funds run out.
Fatima-azzahra Bendahmane designed a complex comprising of six buildings that harmonize with their context thanks to their simple and traditional design. The positioning of the buildings on the site and in relation to each other is ideal. Natural airflow is harnessed for efficient cooling. The architect analyzed the microclimate in detail, and her studies are potentially valuable for use in the design of other buildings throughout the region. Four of the six flat-roof buildings, which are about 3.4 meters high, are used for the elementary school, and the other two house the adult training center.
In the new complex, Fatima-azzahra Bendahmane is also using local wool and wood in addition to earth. For the large canopies shading the facades and forecourts, robust fabrics made of organic wool will be woven by hand, the traditional way, and spanned onto specially made wooden frames. Key facades will receive similar fabric shading, applied vertically, giving the architecture vernacular character while ensuring excellent energy efficiency. The weaving and mounting of the wool fabrics will be done by local women and men working for fair wages. The intention is to use and promote local know-how – and at the same time, to provide a model that can be easily adapted and used in other projects in the region.See more
As one of the three main LafargeHolcim Awards winners for Middle East Africa in 2017, “Weaving and Stamping” automatically qualified as a finalist in the Global LafargeHolcim Awards 2018. All 15 finalist project teams were asked to submit an updated and more comprehensive entry that was evaluated by a global jury in March 2018.
The results of the global phase of the 5th LafargeHolcim Awards competition were announced on March 28, 2018.
Fatima-azzahra Bendahmane from Morocco proposes a multi-generation complex in Aït Benhaddou in Morocco for training young people and promoting local manual skills. The building, to be constructed with the simplest of traditionally rooted methods and materials, houses a school for children and an artisan training center. “By explicitly incorporating the craft traditions that the project aims to advance, the building’s construction actively cultivates its own program,” said the jury.Read more »
Through its program and the buildings themselves, the project fosters local artisanship. The complex will house a children’s school and an adult training space within a recent expansion of the village of Aït Benhaddou. By means of straightforward architectural forms that follow principles of passive climate control, the expression of the design counters narratives that commend only industrial materials as modern. The project incorporates local rammed earth construction and also uses local wool and cane weaving as screens and canopies to shade the facades and exterior common spaces. The woven screens are produced by local women.Read more » Pour en savoir plus (French) »
Environmental performance and economic viability
The project responds to the peculiarities of the region: climate and natural environment are our key design parameters. Hence, instead of adapting design solutions to the site, the site itself becomes the solution. It allows us to conceive a bioclimatic model with a small footprint, based on the building’s configuration with respect to natural components, and the use of an efficient local, widely available material: clay. Thinking about sustainability and passive strategies from the early stages of design allowed to achieve not only social and environmental welfare, but also a significant economic benefit. The project’s design ensures an optimal consumption of energy and water, as well as a high thermal comfort. It also allows wider access to renewable energy by making it affordable.
Innovation, transferability and contextual impact
The project is an exploring and upgrading of local crafts, through introducing them into innovative production cycles and diverse fields, other than artisanal production. Elements of the project, such as sunshades and double skin facades, are the reinterpretation of local weaving of carpets, cane and tents, practiced by the women of the region. These elements illustrate the authentic local character, and beyond the cultural and aesthetic aspects, they have an excellent energy performance and contribute in income and activity generating. The power of this design concept is that it can be easily duplicated and reproduced in different regions, based on their own materials and crafts. It promotes transferability of old practices and their adaptation to current needs and future aspirations.
Ethical standards and social inclusion
The project contributes to enhancing a sense of belonging and community cohesion, through integrating the inhabitants in the planning process of their locality, and restoring their faith in the power of their own know-how and abilities. The project’s educational program, community-based design and participatory construction process will regenerate activity within the village and foster gender equity as they involve men, women and children. This is an illustration of how architecture can preserve a meaningful interaction between a given community and its environment, and ensure transferability of the singular aspects of its culture and social life, in order to lead it towards sustainable development.See more
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Learning complex in the village of Aït Benhaddou in Morocco uses architecture, form, and space to claim artisanship and …
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