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Learning is fun!

In the course of 2010 and 2011, Montada has organized six workshops on traditional Maghreb architecture, aimed at local children (7-13 year-olds) in the cities of Ghardaïa, Dellys, Marrakech, Salé, Sousse and Kairouan, with the aim of promoting knowledge of local traditional heritage in a way that combined academic content and fun. The workshops have stimulated the creativity and individual perception of each child. The results of the workshops and the various interactive materials created (on-line games, cut-outs, @postcards, animated videos) can be consulted on the Montada webpage under the heading of MONTADA KIDS

I make the best carpets

Choosing the theme of the workshop in the case of such an exceptional heritage as that of the M’Zab Valley was quite a challenge. The historic landscape shaped by Mozabite ancestral culture is an architectural complex and landscape that captivates with the beauty of its forms and the symbiosis with its setting: constraint, rigour and simplicity in a bioclimatically perfect architecture. It has so often been taken as a model, as a source of inspiration (Le Corbusier) or the object of lifelong study (André Ravereau) that the choice had to be well thought out with very clear objectives. The ouest dar, the heart of the house, the courtyard, was the theme chosen. The children built the house out of cardboard and gave shape and life to what is the most important social space for the family.

We had all thought of the elements that the kids would want to include in the courtyard and provided them with clay, paper and paint, but no one had thought about what clothes the house and is essential to the architecture of the Maghreb: the carpet! We are so used to admiring its bareness, to stripping the architecture of content, but carpets bring warmth, comfort and a varied range of colours into the interior. “I make the best carpets!” cried one of the girls, waving some pieces of wool, and a little handicraft did the rest. At the end of the workshop, five models in different colours, freely incorporating tones and patterns, represented a dynamic, warm, lived-in space: the centre of the home.

A quick glance at all the models reminded us of the power of creation and the need to singularize each model, applying imagination to the finishing touches. Really, in our globalized world, we not only need to differentiate and reaffirm ourselves by means of our culture, we also need to distinguish ourselves in our closest environment. And if you’re not convinced, just think about NIKEiD…

Sweeter than sugar? The scent of jasmine

In the ongoing attempt to give unity and continuity and to find symbols that unite the two shores of the Mediterranean, the olive tree is far and away the queen of the territory. Jostling for position are the orange tree and the lemon tree, and, behind them, a long way behind, comes the pomegranate tree. So, what of bougainvillea and jasmine? These sweet-scented shrubs permeate the streets of seaside cities at nightfall, though they were originally introduced. The traditional riads in the kasbah of Dellys can help explain the role of the lush vegetation of these great courtyards, annexed to one of the façades of the house, defining the city’s specific fabric. Unlike other seaside cities, its kasbah is not just a balcony, a vantage point, a platform or a citadel looking out over the Mediterranean; Dellys is, above all, an inseparable part of the sea. In this historic landscape, in its centuries-old riads, now very run-down, we find the traces of its past associated with the other shore of the Mediterranean: Nasrid culture.

The workshop in Dellys, centring on the riad as a physical and conceptual space that differentiates traditional architecture, provided different cardboard models so that participants could reproduce the original model, incorporating the textures of lime mortar to give colour to the walls, deciding to use arches or lintels to make openings, drawing the local-made tiles on the ridge roof and bringing life, order, harmony and imagination to the courtyard garden. And as if by magic, the earth was gardened, the paths given paving and the courtyard brought to life with people and domestic animals, and the objects of ancestral ritual. In all the models, one tree and one shrub stood out among the other trees and shrubs. There were orange, lemon and pomegranate trees and bougainvilleas; but the jasmine and the palm tree were unusually predominant. The palm tree was introduced to Kabylia by the French, and the jasmine from lands to the east. Its pure, white, almost virginal blossoms stood out in the courtyards, calling to mind passages from famous rhapsodies dedicated to these flowers, as well as all the perfumes based on its scent. But of course, these thoughts belonged to the adults there; one of the smallest girls asked: “What is sweeter than jasmine? Sugar!” So it is.

Behind the apparent simplicity lies complexity

Intertwining geometric figures and arabesques are the basic ornament of finishes in Muslim architecture. In Morocco, the use in monumental architecture of zellige (tile work ornamentation) later extended to domestic architecture. With its rigorous geometric composition and absolute precision, its point of departure is the breakdown of the plane: the square is divided into different basic figures that are then endlessly extended. The same concept is applied to work in metal, stucco, wood and mural painting.

This is an art and a technique that artisans have mastered to perfection. The workshops in Salé and Marrakech were dedicated to zellige and knowledge of its infinite possibilities. The children were provided with compositions of abstract, geometric iconography on A0 panels and soon discovered how the choice of colour determined the composition and how, depending on the materials used (shiny paper cut-outs, oil paints, tempera, glitter), the resulting textures produced different interpretations of the whole. It came as a great surprise to them to discover the complexity of this type of composition, which seems simple but calls for a great deal of concentration and rigour in its application.

Bright colours for white domes

When we read the word “Kairouan”, and say it out loud, firmly and with a hint of awe, we realize how lovely it sounds. When we stroll through the medina in the walled city and glimpse the circular volumes of buildings down narrow streets, with the presence of magnificent domes of varied shapes—conical, onion-shaped, spherical—we wonder what kind of spaces these splendid domes protect. They are mostly religious spaces, paying tribute to Kairouan as the holy city of Islam.

Kairouan is a predominantly white city, but historiography and the arts have given us tools to be able to imagine Kairouan in colour. Colours that delimit the volumes, as Paul Klee taught us, rather than volumes that accept colour. This is the basis for his representation: colour as the maximum expression and delimitation of form. However, Klee is an Olympian among artists, like Macke.

The children at this workshop modelled different types of domes in white clay, based on drawings, and then incorporated colour to give them their individual forms. The result was spectacular and the freedom with which all the children applied colour surprised even the most enlightened visions: blues, yellows and oranges, sprinkled with glitter... a complex of domes imbued with bright colours. Some of the children compared the result to a show of many-coloured parasols.

Telephone wires, please! But a swimming pool, too...

Arriving by sea to a port city such as Sousse offers a tremendous view: volumes set into the irregular cube that contains the medina. The impression from the sea is one of hundreds of parabolic antennas on the rooftop terraces that are such emblematic spaces in this type of architecture. As Abdelkader said, resting on a bench in a café in the medina of Tunis: “the terrace is a source of inspiration for many artists, but the terrace in question is the one that we treasure in our memories, not the present-day space that is really a lumber room.”

There are many cases like the one Abdelkader mentioned, but Férid Boughedir’s film, Halfaouine: L’enfant de terrasses is a good example. Although the neighbourhood in question is many kilometres from the medina in Sousse, the rooftops have suffered the same fate. This was the main reason for working on this space, which has been subject to a more serious process of degradation than the other spaces in the building and is associated with changes in habits of the population. It has gone from being a space where women and children spent their leisure time to being nothing—or, what is worse, a large container with space for everything.

The big surprise about the workshop devoted to the rooftops of traditional houses in Sousse came from the children, who included telephone and electricity cables and parabolic dishes alongside leisure amenities that they think would bring new life to the rooftops: swimming pool, rugs, plasma screens and the odd iPod to give new meaning, modernity and comfort to this most traditional of spaces.

Montserrat Villaverde
Director of the Montada Traditional Architecture Workshops
Escola d’Arquitectura La Salle
Universitat Ramon Llull. Barcelona. Spain

Letizia Dipasquale
Collaborator with the Montada Traditional Architecture Workshops
Dipartimento di Tecnologie dell'Architettura e Design Pierluigi Spadolini.

Translated from the Catalan by Elaine Fradley

Project: Montada

  • Promote traditional built heritage by strengthening its identity through appropriation by the population
  • Create several Forums as meeting places for community involvement for the promotion and appropriation of built heritage
  • Design and implement effective tools for the preservation and rehabilitation of traditional architecture
  • Capitalise on the heritage resources of the city by learning about it and putting it to good use

From: 01.03.09 To: 01.06.13
Budget: € 1.812.376,00
Countries involved: Algeria,France,Morocco,Spain,Tunisia

Project sheet

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