Urban Agency are creating a top end educational facility in a harsh environment in Morocco
The project for a 10 000 sq m adult education centre, located in the south-west of Morocco in a harsh and isolated area, aspires to create a robust world class education facility that will give generously to its community.
Although the site is quite large, the building occupies half of it in order to create a compact and introverted building, with a humble and simple exterior leading into a rich dynamic internal courtyard - drawing reference to the traditional “Medersa” (first universities) for its social, cultural and climatic ingenuity.
Occupying a portion of the site allows for further development, creating the opportunity for expansion in the future. Meanwhile, the freed space will be used as a generous public space with amenities for the building and surrounding areas, providing the community with an accessible place for social engagement. This new densely planted open space will serve as an esplanade and public garden while acting as an air cooling system and a protective barrier from the northern sandstorms. The new garden extends out to meet the existing landscape and create a linkage from North to South in the overall masterplan - establishing an effortless flow through the site that fuses the surrounding areas.
Much like the traditional architecture of North Africa, the building is introverted surrounding an internal courtyard, protecting it from the harsh sun and sandstorms. The ground floor houses all of the teaching facilities (workshop spaces, classrooms, laboratories, administration, etc) with the first and second floor designated to accommodation/ living quarters all organised on a perimeter ring around the large courtyard. The social and communal spaces such as an amphitheatre, a restaurant and a shop protrude out within the courtyard in the form of large volumes forging a series of smaller and more intimate interlinked courtyards; creating essential shadows and a winding circulation - reminiscent of the narrow winding streets of the Medina.
The main entrance is located at the South-East corner through an inviting double height funnel from the esplanade to the main complex. A gallery runs along the inside of the ground floor acting as a covered corridor for all of the classrooms to open on to - providing natural light and ventilation whilst maintaining the necessary shade. Densely planted palm trees and citrus trees in the courtyard minimize the footprint on the ground whilst providing large parasols of shade, additionally giving the courtyard a magical ambient atmosphere mirroring that of an oasis.
The layout of the student accommodation, located on the first and second floor, is inspired by the “Medersa Ben Youssef” with groups of dorms that exist around a communal courtyard, creating a series of groups within a larger group with an organic sense of organisation and community. The two residential floors are punctuated with covered communal open spaces ideal for the climate and further enhancing the commonality.
In this particular project, ageing and weathering serve as a critical design tool for thinking about how the architecture might intercept with the changing state of the weather on site. The architectural expression of the building makes reference to the traditional local Berber architecture and more specifically to the “Kasbah” (ancient fortress) with its austere and solid monochrome exterior. Those traditional structures have a sandy ochre yellow colour palette; the new training centre in turn is made from board marked concrete pigmented with local sand - a subtle and modern reinterpretation. The exterior finish is raw and horizontally patterned so that over time as the sand and dust from storms accumulates, they will highlight the patterns and embellish the building.