A place for meeting and learning: the Women’s House of Ouled Merzoug
A piece of land in Ouled Merzoug – a small, earthen village near the Atlas Mountains in Morocco – is a meeting place in more ways than one. Firstly, it brought people together: namely, participants of the Building Beyond Borders postgraduate certificate from Belgium’s UHasselt and local Moroccan craftspeople in collaboration. Secondly, the project combined contemporary and traditional building techniques with striking results. And thirdly, its championing of regenerative, natural materials is flattered by site-sensitive native landscaping.
UHasselt’s Building Beyond Borders program invites students and professionals to enhance their knowledge of bioclimatic design and regenerative building materials – nurturing skills to build with a low environmental impact. The Women’s House of Ouled Merzoug is its first “real-life” project; a meeting, working and learning place in the centre of the village for the recently founded women’s association AFOM (Association des Femmes d’Ouled Merzoug).
Completed in December 2019, the Women’s House consists of two volumes strategically oriented to complement surrounding views. From its ridge-top position, the building captures the daily spectacle of sunrise over the mountains and sunset over the river.
Natural elements figure prominently inside as well. Inner walls are composed of adobe bricks and the roof span was dictated by the length of eucalyptus beams sourced from the local market. Finishes include reeds, earth, river sand, lime and straw. The artisan hand of locals shines through curtains designed and woven by the women, the contribution of local woodworkers and ceramic objects created with the local potter.
The ‘cour’, a public entrance, connects the two volumes which contain a workshop space (the ‘atelier des femmes’) and a communal baking house (the ‘boulangerie commune’). A garden area is attached to each volume – one with a sink for washing and colouring wool and the other equipped with a cob oven that the women helped to construct.
In the adjacent gully, a forest garden planted by workers and villagers introduces another communal space – bringing biodiversity and shelter to the site. Nearby, a terraced garden with dry stacked walls manages rainwater drainage.
All in all, the Women’s House of Ouled Merzoug truly goes to show the fruitfulness of a collaboration with sustainability at its core.
Design & build: Participants of Building Beyond Borders postgraduate certificate Uhasselt, 2018-2019 and a team of local crafts(wo)men