Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A major new project planned for the Fez Medina

A major new project is planned to transform a neglected section of the Fez Medina. Suzanna Clarke prepared this exclusive report for The View from Fez

In one of the oldest neighbourhoods of Fez-el-Bali, where artisans such as tanners, copper and brass smiths create their wares, is the Bin Lamdoun bridge. The name means “between two cities” and the bridge links the two river banks where the city was founded. Yet most buildings have their backs turned to the river which, in dry periods, becomes a dumping ground for rubbish.

Within two years, it is planned that a US$13m architectural project will transform this section of the Fez Medina, known as the Place Yalla Yeddouna, into a thriving, vibrant location. The project is aimed at revitalising the area of 7,400 sqm and improving economic and educational opportunities for artisans and other local people.

An international competition was held to redesign the area and the winning design was announced in the Ville Nouvelle on Sunday night. The US$55,000 winning entry is by London-based Mossessian and Partners, with Casablanca-based architects Yassir Khalil Studio. Their vision includes public squares, shops, residences, a hotel, restaurants, an art gallery and lots of space for artisans’ workshops.

Michel Mossessian & Yassir Khahlil

“It is a space where the artisans can be busy and active,” says design principal Michel Mossessian. “The local authorities and government wanted to maintain the nature of the space and the environment of production. It’s a way forward for the 21st century.”

You can see the winning entry, along with the other 174 competition entries, on display at the Palais de Congres in the Ville Nouvelle until March 30.

It is intended that the Place Lalla Yeddouna project be completed within two years. “The money needs to be spent by 2013,” says Richard Gaynor of the Millenium Challenge Corporation - a bilateral development fund set up by the Bush administration in 2002.

“The US government has made an agreement with the Moroccan for a $700m dollar investment in agriculture, artisanal fishing and the Fez Medina project, which involves vocational, educational and literacy training and enterprise support.”

The $42.4m Fez Medina project, administered by the Agency of Partnership for Progress (APP), with its implementing partner, the Agency for the Development and Rehabilitation of the city of Fez (ADER-Fès), includes the refurbishment of four fonduks and the improvement of Ain Noqbi as well as the redevelopment of Place Lalla Yeddouna.

Although some may view such a major revamp of a section of the World Heritage listed Fez medina with concern, it seems the jury panel comprising international architects and the Moroccan Prime Minister, Abbas El Fassi, have chosen the winner well. Rather than going for the “wow” factor, Mossessian and Partners’ winning entry for the redesign of Place Lalla Yeddouna uses traditional forms, with careful consideration for cultural, historical and environmental issues.

The firm is known for the inclusive way they involve stakeholders from the outset. Their previous projects include the Carmine Building, at Five Merchant Square in London and the design for Barahat Al-Naseem Square in Doha, Qatar.

“All too often the end users are ignored”, Mossessian says.

The design is intended to blend in and enhance what makes the city so special – a difficult task to achieve in two years, when the Medina has developed organically over more than a thousand.

Mossessian says he understands the need to maintain the complexity of the fabric of the Medina. “What we have tried to do is to enhance the inherent values the medina is already offering; to enrich our thinking of what the space wants to be,” he said. “We kept the pattern that the Medina tells us. Here, there is a very strong hierarchy of open, public and private space."

While some historically significant buildings will be preserved, others will be replaced. “We have measured the space of rooms by that which the artisans need to do their work and that defines the shape of the buildings...But the emphasis is the space between the buildings. The medina is not on a grid and keeping the streets narrow provides more shade; breaking the linearity of them enables the pattern of the wind to be altered.”

Enabling spaces where people can meet and linger – either alone or together – is an essential part of the life of the city and a major economic catalyst. “We tend to respond much better to conditions where we can meet and exchange,” he says. “Successful spaces are those where people can enjoy being together.”

In contrast, public spaces in European cities were built as public statements reflecting the power of kings, queens and popes. “It’s about showing the power in place. Here we are talking about the city as a tool, to meet and exchange which generates value.”

“(Our approach has been) to listen to the way the space can be occupied naturally. There is a notion of protection in these types of cities (such as the Fez Medina). The city is a protective environment for people to be alone or in groups. It’s totally the opposite of the mode of functioning in Western cities developed in the last 50 years, where most public spaces – such as shopping malls and airports - are designed not to stay in. They end up being places where it is not pleasant to be; where people get in your way, rather than it being an opportunity to meet.”Locations such the Fez Medina, “challenge our rational grid...matrix type of thinking,” Mossessian says.

Whereas Western cities have developed almost interchangeable forms of architecture, “there is more value in listening to an environment for its cultural and historical notions than trying to say something new. When we talk about sustainability, we have to talk about how previous generations did without electricity and the consumption of resources (we take for granted). We need to change the way we use space and energy and this is a beautiful model.

“What I am aspiring to respond to is sculpting the void. We are in a void today in knowing how to create values. Values are not just the economy, but cultural, about society, about the ownership of a place where you live and what you receive and give back.”

You can see the entries from the Place Lalla Yeddouna architectural competition on show at the Palais de Congres, Ville Nouvelle, until March 30, 10am to 8pm.

For more information visit here:
Place Lalla Yeddouna

No comments: