Editorial By Guilhem Eustache : Photographic Journey by Jean Marie Monthiers
For many years I regularly visited Morocco. From the first trip I was bewitched by that country and the three projects studied to date are certainly fed, to varying degrees, by all the images and impressions gathered during my stays. The work of main architects, painters, sculptors, conceptual artists or filmmakers of all periods and all schools have, I guess, more or less important influence on my work. A detail of a painting by Giorgio de Chirico, the crossing , early on the morning, of Dye baths in Fez, the tracking shot of a film of Orson Wells, the discovery of the Jantar Mantar site in Jaipur can be,for me, a source of inspiration conscious or not. All these impressions we carry, some of them since a very long time, will fit at some point in our work, it's very mysterious. I find it difficult to establish precisely, for this project, where and when it refers to such or such painter or architect work.
That's why I'm always surprised when an architecture journalist accurately established similarities between my work and that of such artist. Although architecture should be considered, according to Hegel, as the first of the arts, my intervention is narrative, a more additional and pragmatic process than conceptual.For many years I regularly visited Morocco. From the first trip I was bewitched by that country and the three projects studied to date are certainly fed, to varying degrees, by all the images and impressions gathered during my stays. The work of main architects, painters, sculptors, conceptual artists or filmmakers of all periods and all schools have, I guess, more or less important influence on my work. A detail of a painting by Giorgio de Chirico, the crossing , early on the morning, of Dye baths in Fez, the tracking shot of a film of Orson Wells, the discovery of the Jantar Mantar site in Jaipur can be,for me, a source of inspiration conscious or not. All these impressions we carry, some of them since a very long time, will fit at some point in our work, it's very mysterious. I find it difficult to establish precisely, for this project, where and when it refers to such or such painter or architect work. That's why I'm always surprised when an architecture journalist accurately established similarities between my work and that of such artist. Although architecture should be considered, according to Hegel, as the first of the arts, my intervention is narrative, a more additional and pragmatic process than conceptual.
A client introduced me to a Belgium film producer. He offered me to draw up the plans of several houses on land he had bought in Marrakech, Morocco. For this first project my desire was to establish a close dialogue with the land, vegetation and the atlas to the horizon. Being a small house of 170 sqm on a plot of 2.5 hectares, we had to create a dynamic equilibrium despite this difference of scale. We played with light and shadow to enhance and strengthen the volumes. The main difficulty was to define the program with the client. Originally we had planned to build three houses on this site. The project gradually decreased to finally the smallest of these three houses in order to preserve the field. The client informed me he bought a second larger plot (5 hectares) under the same conditions but closer to the Atlas in order to implement the other two houses.
Extensive analysis of the site is always essential. Its orientation from the sun , its size, its shape, access, its best points of view (toward the horizon or neighbour) and the presence or not of nuisance influences necessarily the architectural choices. The Land is Located about ten kilometers south of Marrakech. flat, mostly downed uder a veil That hides heat horizon. It Is only from December to March the snowy atlas that appearance. An observation of the site suggested we reduce built-up areas in order to preserve its wild. the cutting of the program stems from the terrain topology: The main building was positioned in the center, the keeper's house and garage on the edge closest to the Marrakesh access road. The orientations of each part of the house are made according to several criteria directly induced by the site: best views on the Atlas, best orientations to protect from the sun or the wind The site nuisances have also influence on architecture; Two parallel concrete sails create a noise and visual barrier to the west.
There is a narrow link that exists between architecture and cinema, I have to remind you that the client is a Belgian film producer and director. The perception of architecture is mainly achieved through movement. The eye in movement, when the perspective opens, reveals little by little the various elements which constitute the house. In the distance, a white square - when getting closer – becomes a cube, a white wall a tube, then we discover openings… But another white rectangle is finally only a simple wall, a small triangle a pyramid.
It is quite exciting to captivate the visitor, to suggest him (her) a vertiginous rise of steps, a plunging view into space or a panoramic view on the horizon. It is a real scenario which must be worked out with dynamic sequences, such as travellings, then rotations, fixed framings which can finally transform into a zoom towards the infinite during a slow frontal movement.
The story of the construction of the Fobe house : The atmosphere that you feel when visiting the Fobe House has taken shape gradually over time. There were two distinct phases in the design and construction of the whole; The main house, situated in the center of the ground, was designed and built in a first phase. Some details that are important and that completed it were still, at that time, to be discovered. A few years later, at the request of the client, I designed additional spaces that were built rapidly: the caretaker's house (two attached cubes), a double garage (a long tube - studded with square openings), but also the "totem" fireplace which lies between the garage and the caretaker's house, the three vertical walls that mark the entrance to the ground and the "technical local" at the back of the pool (the cube behind the concrete bleachers/stairs). We added a few missing details to the main house: the laminated stairs above the water basin at the bottom of the long staircase leading to the roof terrace, all the pathways and outdoor terraces that float 50cm above the natural ground level and finally the stairs/bleachers at the end of the swimming pool. When the main house was designed, we had no idea of the final result towards which we advanced unconsciously.
The evolution of the program initiated the architectural choices. I could quote all the intentions that came with each implanted structure, each architectural choice and each detail but that would seem a bit daunting? Each m² was intensely discussed and debated, thought through and constantly reworked, so as to meet the client’s expectations. When the plans became clearer, evolved with time, the right responses to bring became increasingly rare (sharp and precise), the possibilities became limited. We had, at that stage, the strange impression that the house was chosing its own destiny. The project finally nourished the project in keeping to its own logic..
Technical details adopted to cope with the weather, hot temperatures, etc ... The owner grew up in Saudi Arabia and Dubaï. His mother, who now lives in the house, is an egyptologist (The client lives there regularly). She participated in the sixties, in excavations of archeological sites in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, under the direction of the great archaeological museum of Brussels. This was a great opportunity as the future inhabitants of such a house must have a sufficient capacity to adapt to the desert. The temptation to transplant to Morocco certain Western lifestyles and comforts is often sadly quite ridiculous. It is not uncommon to see around Marrakech large lawns watered abundantly. Why want to upset an environment at all costs? To transform it at any price? Is it not better to live in a place best suited to its own lifestyle? The desert accepts intruders with difficulty.
The techniques adopted to respond to the particular climate of the region are those commonly used and proven in the Maghreb. We have, more out of a rational and economical concern, chosen local materials. Solutions and imported materials which were too sophisticated, and often required tedious implementation and expensive maintenance, were on the whole rejected. There is, depending the years, between ten and twenty days of rain per year in the region. There may be two big rain storms in the fall, which can flood the land. For this reason, we followed the advice of the Moroccans and raised by nearly 50cm, all the constructions. The water for the house comes from the glaciers of the Atlas mountains. A well was dug on the ground with a depth of about 30 to 40 meters. The ground is at the limit of the area that can be constructed; beyond this continues the same endless landscape with the Atlas mountains in the background. On a clear day, it is quite breathtaking. This flat, barren desert land but full of hidden riches (the precious water less than 40m deep), allows to create clear visual connections between the seperated buildings, the horizon and the earth itself. The smallest wall in the distance is magnified by this lunar landscape.
The views to the snow-covered Atlas emerge on clear days, from October to May. The final orientation of the house stems from this desire to see the Atlas that has never ceased to haunt the client. He chose this ground, near Marrakech, mainly for its stunning views towards the mountains. We all worked together for the ideal implantation of the main house on the ground. But it is the client and no one else who in the end decided the exact positioning of the house to the exact degree. The end result is a compromise between the climate considération and the desire to have, also, the most beautiful views on the Atlas from the living areas. To fight against the heat we created rooms of important heights, doubled the walls - leaving an air space between these two walls, made drafts possible by increasing the openings to the outside, created a winter living space as well as a summer lounge. We positioned concrete sun breezes in front of most of the openings that work best when the sun is highest in the sky, at the hottest hours of the day and during the warmest season of the year... The use of a light color, and the entrance water basin as well as the swimming pool offer too, at the contact of the house, a bit of freshness.
Only the two bedrooms have, as well, air conditioning. It is a reversible system which also allows for heating during the coldest Winter nights Heating is used at night, only in the two bedrooms, around 10 days per year and principally during the month of January. In addition, there is a fireplace in the master bedroom as well as in the keeper's house. Air conditioning is used between 10 and 15 days per year during the Summer season.
Hassan Fathy would be proud standing on one side of the red sea and glaring into the yonder, eyes fixed on the red adobe architecture replication of his ideas into the El Gouna Hotel resort in Egypt’s hot and humid air. It is a oxymoron idea into architecture, using locally affordable material...