Modern Morocco: Building a New Vernacular

Modern Moroccan architecture is reinterpreting vernacular traditions. Taking its name from the Arabic al-maġhrib, or the “place the sun sets; the west”, the kingdom is a sovereign state home to numerous examples of Islamic design, as well as detailed art and ornamentation found within geometric patterns, friezes and open courtyards.

Modern Morocco: Building a New Vernacular - More Images+ 7

© Fernando Guerra, FG+SG

Located in the Maghreb region of North Africa, Morocco borders both the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. This coastal and mountainous landscape extends to the Sahara desert, and in turn, strongly grounds the built environment. Tying back to a history of indigenous Berber people, the country’s architecture has been shaped by the Arab world and countries like Spain, Portugal and France, as well as religious and cultural movements. Defined by waves of settlers, colonization and military takeovers, the country has held independence since 1956.

Beyond its more iconic riad palaces and mosques, new architecture in cities like Rabat and Casablanca is breaking from established building techniques and construction methods. The following AD roundup takes a closer look at Morocco’s cultural landscape. As a series of public projects, the work showcases new construction built in the last decade. From museums and educational projects to transport stations and a visitor center, they represent a diversity of program and scale. They are also informed by a history of building with the landscape, a past that continues to shape modern design.

Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech by Studio KO

© Nicolas Mathéus

Dedicated to the work of the legendary French fashion designer, the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech (mYSLm) houses an important selection from the Fondation Pierre Bergé. Yves Saint Laurent’s collection comprises 5,000 items of clothing, 15,000 haute couture accessories as well as tens of thousands of sketches and assorted objects. Situated on Rue Yves Saint Laurent, the new building spans over 4,000 m2 and features a 400 m2 permanent exhibition space, a 150 m2 temporary exhibition space, a 130-seat auditorium, a bookshop, a café-restaurant with a terrace and a research library housing 5,000 books.

Volubilis Visitor Center by OUALALOU+CHOI

© Luc Boegly

Set within the most visited archaeological site in the Kingdom of Morocco, this project seeks to enhance the historical and symbolic significance of this unique UNESCO World Heritage site. The site is an exceptionally well-preserved example of an ancient Roman colonial town and one of several antique sites in Morocco. In order to highlight the dramatic visual impact of the antique ruins upon entry to the site, the volume of the museum is embedded into the hillside so that visitors do not initially perceive its presence.

Kenitra Train Station by Silvio d’Ascia Architecture + Omar Kobbité Architectes

© Takuji Shimmura

The Kenitra station was imagined as a jewel case framing the renewed identity of traditional Moroccan architecture in an urban context, in particular, thanks to its facade, a reinterpretation of a moucharabieh expanded to the scale of the city. Associating the socio-economic and technological progress concretized by the arrival of the Al Boraq TGV, the station is a symbol of this city’s and of Morocco’s integration with the modern world.

Wall of Knowledge Middle School by Tarik Zoubdi Architect and Mounir Benchekroun Architect

© Doublespace Photography

“Wall of knowledge” is a construction project of a middle school in the city of El Jadida (100 km south of Casablanca). The school was built for the OCP employees' children. The irregular shape of the site and its orientation to the sun suggested a spatial distribution of the project in three main areas. The central area is a building reserved for teaching. It occupies the middle of the plot. This strategic position allows it to serve as a landmark for the neighborhood. The northern area includes all sport facilities. The southern area is kept vacant for future school extension.

Bio-climatic Preschool by BC Architects

Courtesy of BC Architects

In need of educational infrastructure, Goodplanet foundation aimed to install a preschool with bioclimatic functioning, as an extension to the existing school building. The building is inspired by a new vernacular from local typologies, materials, and techniques, with a contemporary look, performance bio-climatic functioning and earthquake-proof design. The preschool of Ouled Merzoug has foundations of locally sourced natural stone, with adobe walls and a wood-and-earth flat roof.

Guelmim Airport by Groupe3 Architectes

© Fernando Guerra, FG+SG

The new Guelmim airport is integrated in an existing military infrastructure located 3km north of the city. The goals of the project were simplicity, efficiency, and environmental control. It is with this objective that the construction of the building was designed in 2 phases, resulting in a linear design parallel to the runways. The terminal building consists of 2 double height halls that hold the waiting areas which open onto the landscape on one side and on the runways on the other, protected by wide overhangs and a light-filtering façade.

Université Mohammed VI Polytechnique by Ricardo Bofill

© Gregori Civera

Benguerir is only seventy kilometres from Marrakesh. Fes and Meknes aren’t far away either, cities whose winding medinas are among the most beautiful in the world. And can we ignore the white avenues of Casablanca, shaped by the art deco movement? The gardens of Rabat? The oases of the Draa Valley? The ksour and the earthen palaces south of the Atlas? No; it’s impossible to build on Moroccan soil as you would on the Chinese steppe or in the Las Vegas desert.

Taroudant University by Saad El Kabbaj + Driss Kettani + Mohamed Amine Siana

© Fernando Guerra, FG+SG

Taroudant's architectural style, full of history, is an expression of the deep Moroccan South. This university building is an attempt to reinterpret that heritage and create a vision for the future. The project draws its inspiration from the land and its manifestations to the senses. The faculty is organized around a central riad (interior garden) on the north-south axis whose northern boundary is a garden of Argan trees, giving the user an unmatch view over the Atlas Mountains. The various entities are deployed around this riad taking into account the need for proximity, orientation and views.

About this author
Cite: Eric Baldwin. "Modern Morocco: Building a New Vernacular" 26 Nov 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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