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Sometimes you just have to be silent

Elementary school and craft training center, Aït Benhaddou, Morocco

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.

A18GLfiMA-book-Bendahmane.jpgThere 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 pro- vide 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.

A18GLfiMA-book-Sequencing2.jpgFatima-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.

Read the full article: “Sometimes you just have to be silent” in Fifth LafargeHolcim Awards – Sustainable Construction 2017/2018

Last Updated: October 25, 2018
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Aït Benhaddou, Morocco
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