19 October 2014
Morocco’s first ever pavilion at the 14th Biennale di Venezia bases its concept upon Morocco’s role as an urban and architectural laboratory over the last century, describing itself as a territory of exploration with an extraordinary potential – a veritable workshop for the Modern Project.
The curator of the Moroccan pavilion is Tarik Oualalou, an architect with a degree from Harvard University who is as well president of the FADA Foundation (Foundation for Arts, Design and Architecture). He called the exhibition “Fundamental(ism)s”, a title that offers an allusion to the general theme proposed by Rem Koolhaas for his Biennale “Fundamentals 1914-2014”. Koolhaas, the Biennale curator, wanted participants to focus and consider the past in exploring where architecture is at now and where it could be headed in the future.That is exactly what Morocco’s pavilion did.
We enter the Moroccan pavilion with our heads held high, colored lights and warm colors all around. A single step and a magical feeling envelop us: Sahara desert is under our feet.
This is the first winning choice for this project: take a step and you’re instantly Jasmine.
While walking to the installation you cannot help but think of buildings from the Arabian Nights, golden domes, huge gardens, beautiful fountains and in the end, the boundless desert – hot but wonderful – with that fine sand that slips through your hands.
The word “desert” derives from the Latin desertum, composed of the particle “de” that assigns a negative sense to the verb serere that means to connect, to tie, stating an entity that doesn’t have a connection point, empty, uninhabited.
Morocco and the desert are linked together by an indissoluble bond; the desert has always been considered – wrongly – a place without life, where everything dies and nothing grows. It gives full life to Morocco instead, that breath in deeply through the small desert’s beads: the magnificent Moroccan cities, such as Casablanca, Fez, Agadir and Boulemane.
The sand dunes triangular forms are characterized by strength and stability and have a relationship to the desert’s power, which performs a unique function. It is a monument to the sky and to the sun, evocation of the passing of the seasons and time.
Inhabiting the desert
The installation shows a strong vision of a country that has absorbed and metabolized modernity and radicalism, integrating them in the territory; this is, too, something to which Morocco has always been accustomed to: the tradition always tries to find a meeting point between modernity and radicalism, but also appropriation and integration.
The pavilion is divided into two parts. The first part is composed of a historical exploration exhibiting ten projects (one per decade) in which a traditional city is presented. The ten selected projects explain how the idea of “medina” is central in the Moroccan architectural design research and how it served as the origin of many radical architectural and urban projects throughout the century. It starts with the Medina of Fez, which was founded in the eighth century to move to the district Habous in Casablanca (1917), or the block Assayag built from 1930 onwards in the same city. Then, there are also models of buildings from Nid d’Abeille and Sémiramis, an experience guiding submitted by architects ATBAT-Afrique 9th CIAM (International Congress of’ Modern Architecture) in 1953, in Aix-en-Provence.
The complex became an example of adaptation of modern architecture in search of new inspiration.
Not only buildings and structures, but also public spaces like the Great Square of Agadir are reproduced in that magnificent exhibition: the city was destroyed by the earthquake of 1960, and has become a place of heroic architectural expression of a country that has recently gained its independence.
You can also find a video installation, projected onto the ceiling of Fulldawa Films, directed by Ismaël el Iraki and Benjamin Rufi, filmmaker born in Morocco but active in France. The film consists of a contrast between day and night images. During the night, the starry sky of the Moroccan desert dominates the viewer, immersing it in an intimate atmosphere, conducive to the discovery of the projects, individually lit.The sun begins to rise on the first site, which is also the oldest (the Medina of Fez), while the remaining sites are presented in chronological order. At sunset, dipping to the pavilion in different atmospheres during the movie, we return again to the silent night of the Sahara.
The second part of the exhibition focuses on territorial speculations in the Western Sahara.The Sahara is still considered unspoiled and unexplored maybe because of its special geographical and climatic conditions, which make it very difficult to make projects of architecture. Islamic culture has influenced literature, art and architecture – in particular Western architecture – involving figures such as Gaudí, Wright and Le Corbusier.
The coldness and self-modernist canons contrast with the attention to the environmental context, the spiritual component and the fundamental social purpose of Islamic architecture.The unique geography of the Western Sahara and its position as a territory at the ‘limits,’ in a climactic, social, and political sense, demands that architects question how to integrate architectural and infrastructural solutions into such marginalized territory. They have to get used to a kind of artificial landscape, supported by structural elements which also function as shielding systems, which is, however, highly integrated in the landscape.
The research project explores, in fact, not only an extreme environmental condition for the development of urban bodies and living spaces, but informs through the use of new and innovative methods to increase the architectural production that could be constituted as an autonomous element, even in the desert landscape.
Projects are presented on the stems emerging from the sand, leading to a slowing down to a stop with respect to the general frenzy of the Exposure: a reversal of the relation of the senses favored by the scenery inspired by the Sahara. The visitor is invited to experience the experience of this legendary desert and of its immense horizontal dimension where the sky is also a map, a navigation tool to the stars. Everything is inspired by the Sahara inside the Moroccan Pavilion!