Preschool of Aknaibich

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M A M O T H + BC architects & studies in cooperation with Frank Stabel, Thomas Joos, Alina Negru Carole Fournier et Elisabetta Carnevale

The community of the construction of the preschool of Aknaibich Š Frank Stabel,Thomas Joos, Kristel Pelliet

We, the community. The preschool of Aknaibich, Morocco is done by us. “We” are not only architects, “we” are also a French NGO, 3 Moroccan associations, the families of Aknaibich, the teachers and students of the preschool, five volontary architects, fifteen workers and a foreman, five Mahlemas, and 30 children. “We” is a community, who made this project come to realization.

We were leaving to build elsewhere. Over there.

Where needs and necessities teached us the meaning of architecture. Over there, where we were living within the community: we were searching for our identity in the anonymity and systematics of global development. We were there, very present, leaving our programmed knowledge behind.

We were thinking to build differently. We designed

and built with specific local climate and community in mind, letting the local characteristics inspire spaces. We worked together in a setting of enthusiasm and respect, where architects were crafting, craftsmen were designing, client was building.

We were desiring to build beautifully.

A simple and humble building, a combination of stones, earth and wood, which would host the kids as a part of the future to come, in the shadows of the argan trees. This is our story where we venture into human encounters, a story with its doubts and choices. Where we venture in how to redefine architectural practice - learning from the old concept of a master-builder, but now being more of a multiple master-builder: the community. The “we”. This contemporary master-builder might reach for a new architectural style: the contemporary vernacular. An architecture that is not a style, but the expression of a shared context, momentum, needs and desires.

Bio-climatics The Goodplanet Foundation, presided by Yann-Arthus Bertrand, has developed a program of rehabilitation of bio-climatic schools. Through this program, they aim to bring the theme of climate change into the heart of local communities, while at the same time providing for education-deprived area’s. The systematic application of available local resources and materials integrate these constructions in their environment, and interact in a smart way with local climatic circumstances. These contextual projects stand at the crossroad between innovative technologies and traditional knowledge, between “high-tech” and “low-tech”. These buildings have a very low carbon footprint, because of their low need for energy during and after construction. Its Bio-Climatic conception rethinks flows of heat and cold in order to avoid air-conditioning and forced heating, while providing a perfect interior climate for education.

Made from nature stone, earth and wood, these schools use wind to cool off, and sun to heat up.

The preschool of Aknaibich is constructed out of unbaked earth like the old ‘kasbahs’ and ‘ksars’ in Morocco. The roof is made of small-sectioned wooden beams and woven matting, with relative heavy earth load on top to protect from zenital sun. The compact building orients itself towards the North with big glass doors for generous indirect sun light, while avoiding the harsh Moroccan sun. The South façade is pierced with small and deep windows to avoid direct sunlight and thus overheating of the room, while the south wall takes the sun all day and heats up, slowly, radiating heat into the classroom when most needed - during the evening and night and subsequently resulting in a pleasant morning temperature. The east and west walls of the school are double walls without openings. This insulates the interior climate against the low and strong east and west sun, while having a beneficial effect on acoustics from outside the classroom. The clay renderings on the outside are ‘fat’ and thick, reinforced with straw fibers. They protect the buildings structure of frequent winds and sporadious rains. Rendering with ‘Tadelass’ © Frank Stabel

The new vernacular

“... I have always thought that the materialisation of architecture doesn’t take place at the moment where one draws, but rather at the moment where one constructs. Otherwise, materialisation does not make sense. Vernacular architecture, born in place, mediated by limitations, is more contextual per definition. Its power, and at the same time its weakness, comes from the fact that it takes place in the permanence, not in the event. ...” Patrick Bouchain; “Learning from Vernacular” de Pierre Frey, Actes Sud 2010.

Vernacular architecture is in essence contextual. It always responds pragmatically to the

needs and desires of a community. It is not conceived, but grows over time, by innovations or by expressions of priorities of the community. Logically, the vernacular developed itself far from the institutions and infrastructures. Communities continue to build like their ancesters, with a minimum of resources and a maximum of effectiveness. The vernacular embraces the idea of minimalist efficiency, of thoughtfulness, of a logical and well-embedded method of construction at scale of humans. In Morocco, one still finds many examples of the vernacular, mostly embedded in the ‘douar’ (villages). Craftsmen are an integral part of the douar, responsible for knowledge transfer. Local materials are abundant and perform well, and mostly consist of nature stone, earth, straw, lime, small woods. For this project, we departed from this vernacular, and combined it with innovative techniques, built it within the community, in an architecture that one might call a new, or contemporary vernacular.

Preschool of Aknaibich Chapter 1

The Goodplanet Foundation, active worldwide, runs two programs around Agadir: the “Argan Project” program, and the “Bioclimatic Schools” program. The “Argan Project” program was a first research into the area mainly focused on the production of Argan and its potential for uplifting local economies. Through the experiences of this program, the “Bioclimatic schools” program was started, and had already realised two school projects. The Goodplanet Foundation aimed to construct a third school project in one of the thirteen selected ‘douars’ (villages) after having researched the area. This would be educational infrastructure of around 50 square meters, built with local materials and local craftsmanship.

The village of Aknaibich

is a ‘douar’ or village of the commune of Draga, situated on the banks of the Oued Souss, 30 km from the centre of Agadir. In 2004, the population was 1266 inhabitants, while in 2013 it was only 634, of which the majority were adults between 30 and 60 years. Research done by Mr Alifriqui and Mr Igmullan, agricultural engineers appointed for the “Argan project”, has also revealed a big presence of the age category less than 6 years: 50 boys and 26 girls. These demographic data, have supported other research in claiming the necessity for a preschool for children of 3-6 years. The research also pointed towards a high rural urban migration of the age category 6-30, with young students going to the centre of Agadir to study and build up their lives. This is conform a prevailing Moroccon trend in rural-urban migration. Still, these rural-urban dynamics in Aknaibich are quite contained, compared to remote villages in the mountains, who suffer true exodus to the city. Geographically, Aknaibich develops between the regional road P1010 and the river Oued Souss, while in the east, Aknaibich ends on the banks of a side river of the Oued. It is about 1500 meters long in East-West direction, and 500 meters long in north south direction. The village can easily be seen to have an old part, with traditional constructions, and a new part, with concrete constructions. The oldest part lies at the east: a dense settlements of farmhouses and residential houses, constructed in earth. In this old zone, the enclosure walls form sinusoid roads and narrow alleys. On the contrary, the new part is more spaced out, and comprises concrete structures in delineated parcels with compound walls. In the south of the village, towards the Oued, an agricultural zone is implemented, bordered by plants or irrigation canals.

The swing on the playground © Frank Stabel

The river Oued Souss © Frank Stabel

Portugal Spain


The Atlantic




Western Sahara


Made of earth and concrete,

the typology of traditional Moroccan houses is defined by a dense and compact habitat. Façades are not much exposed to sunlight and a courtyard or patio stands in the middle. Interior spaces are small (mostly because of the low span possibilities of the local wood of max. 4 m), and organized in a clearly marked way: public reception spaces are separate from more intimate and private spaces. The principal materials of construction are earth from the site, straw, nature stone, and wood. Earth construction is mostly rammed earth (‘talouat’) for nonloadbearing structures (like enclosure walls) while adobe walls (‘mekdar’) are used for load-bearing purposes. All earth construction is subsequently rendered with ‘tadelass’, a mix of earth, sand and straw. The wood comes essentially from once imported Eucalyptus and palm trees which are locally cut. Their quality does not

seem to be high standard, so local ways of drying and treating are necessary for it to become a performant building material. Nature stone used in construction comes mainly from sedimentary rocks in the river beds. Masonry is done traditionally with random bonding, in an earth-lime mortar. Hence also the foundations, mostly consisting of limestone. Thicknesses of foundations (and thus walls) vary from 40-50 cm, and mostly have a small inclination towards the inside, reducing capillary action of water and thus also salpeter flowering, while making the structure more stable. Formally, these constructions are very compact and selfcentered. Thick earthen walls on massive foundations, with a thick roof, make these seem like big earthen blocks, linked with each other thorugh the enclosure walls. In Aknaibich, like in the whole province of Agadir, these traditional ways of constructing are abandoned for the faster and easier ways of concrete construction. Big concrete houses have been constructued - or are in construction -, mainly built by Aknaibich emigrants, who return from time to time. These concrete skeletons with their iron bars come to mark the landscape of Aknaibich,. The inhabitants of Aknaibich still recognize the benefits of traditional construction: thermal comfort, beauty, humanness of materials, ... Nevertheless, the principal inconvenience of traditional construction is the low span possibilities of local wood, which makes the inside spaces often not larger than 3 or 4 meters large. With some minor use of concrete, these spans can of course be considerably larger, hence the rooms more spatious and luminous.

Preschool of Aknaibich

One of many concrete constructions Š Frank Stabel

An old village house Š Frank Stabel

Adobe masonry with ringbeams for paraseismic effect Š Frank Stabel

Preschool of Aknaibich

An extension onto an existing school

supports a well-experienced comparison between the existing concrete school building, and the new earthen preschool in a new vernacular style. Students as well as teachers could form their opinions after using the two buildings. Planning the extension on an existing school site, also generates a “school complex”, which visibly shows the importance of education within a community. Combining “old” and new in one of the key functions of a Aknaibich - this project could well become a pilot project for other schools in Morocco. The existing school of Aknaibich receives 100 kids in 4 classes until 12 years old. Legally, this school is an annex of the Al Hidaya school in Draga. Three teachers educate the 100 students, of which one teacher has his office at the entry of the school. The institution consists of two groups of buildings along

the north/south axis around a central unpaved courtyard with significant topography. First 3 classes and the office were built, after which a fourth classroom in prefab materials and a sanitary block was added. The terrain only has 3 argan trees and is not landscaped.

The aim of the design

of the preschool was to introduce a new vernacular, as well as take care of the landscaping of the shared space through enclosure walls design and playground design. In the end, a holistic design for the whole school complex should be attained by the projected intervention. When including a building into an existing infrastructure, one has to study daily use and base future planning on that daily use. Together with all partners involved, we have designed a class room of the same dimensions as the other classrooms, with the same north/south

Plan of the preschool and other classrooms.

Section of the preschool.

orientation. Its implementation at the end of the parcel made it possible to materialise the border of the parcel, hereby creating an inwardly organized playground, leveled out for children’s use. The topography of the parcel has led to different levels in the courtyard. The first level serves classroom 3 and 4 and the teacher’s office, then goes to the central courtyard, to arrive at the third level of the new school building. The preschool is designed to have incorporated its own playground for “the youngest ones”, protected from the sun by a light pergola covered by ratan and wood. This playground has swings and other kids’ play infrastructures installed. The enclosure walls in rammed earth are perforated with small openings at kids’ eye level, and provide support for the playground infrastructure. The open space just outside the classroom is conceived as a possible outdoor classroom, in the shadow of the pergola and with small seatings for the kids.

For bioclimatics, the north-south orientation allows to

control luminosity inside the classroom. At the southside, the strong Moroccon sun heats the heavy adobe façade all day, while small windows avoid direct sunlight entry. These small windows are generated by a ringbeam system, which creates small niches reminiscent of the traditional niches in Agadir province. These niches can serve as storage, flowerpot area, or reading space. At the northside, the façade is made up of columns, in order to allow for as much luminous openings as possible, and in order to link as much as possible with the outdoor classroom space and playground. These openings consist of glass doors with seperately openable louvres, securing the classroom at night. The east and west walls of the school are double walls without openings. This insulates the interior climate of the low and strong east and west sun, while having a beneficial effect on acoustics from outside the classroom. Cross-ventilation at the top of the room takes the rising heat away. In a simple and pragmatic way, this design aims to respond to the needs and desires of local community. It also aims to show how a new vernacular can be cheaper, healthier, more comfortable and more beautiful than concrete constructions.

Exploded axonometrie of the preschool, with bioclimatic scheme.

West façade © Frank Stabel

View on the argan tree inside the patio © Frank Stabel

East façade of the classroom, seen from the courtyard © Frank Stabel

West façade showing the school complex © Frank Stabel

The playground with its swing Š Kristel Pelliet

Sout façade at dusk © Frank Stabel

Detail of the shutters of the North façade © Frank Stabel

View in the interior of the preschool Š Frank Stabel

Interior views © Frank Stabel

Interior view © Frank Stabel

Preschool of Aknaibich

Paraseismic potential:

In traditional Moroccan constructions, one can find paraseismic principles, consisting of wood in nature stone masonry. In rethinking this sytem, we replace wood by concrete in order to comply with the Moroccan Paraseismic Norms RPS 2000. We also comply with the only recently released new norms for paraseismic design of earthen constructions in France, “RPCTerre”, which show the principles of paraseismic construction to guarantee the stability of structures and assure the security of building users. These norms talk about the maximum slenderness of walls, the relation foundation-wall, and wall-openings, the best mixes for adobe and rammed earth and much more. For the preschool, in line with vernacular principles , the construction system incorporates a system of ringbeams vertically connected by reinforcement bars. This system ties together the adobe walls, and takes up traction forces caused by earthquakes. At the south façade, these ringbeams become small platforms with the width of the wall, to form the niches. At the north façade, an augmented amount of vertical steel bars tie the foundation and top ring beam.

Reserved space for concrete ring beam at foundation level © Frank Stabel

Connection detail of wooden roof beams with top ring beam. Š Frank Stabel

First ringbeam on foundation level with the start of the eight poles. Š Frank Stabel

Local materials Chapter 2

Local materials and workmanship The challenge of updating the traditional construction techniques for this project became an opportunity. We managed to respect a short supply-chain of building materials and labor force, supporting local economy, and installing pride in the construction of a contemporary preschool with the traditional materials. To work with local materials means to deal with a material which has no norms nor industrial homogenity. They ask for a specific handling and knowhow, often embedded in traditional crafts and techniques. Today, these embedded materials and techniques are often abandoned in the light of industrialisation and globalisation, where local inhabitants prefer what can look like progress and development. It might be so that traditional construction methods are not fulfilling all desire and needs of contemporary communities. But neither the new construction methods are durable in the long run, empowering mainly big businesses and ignorign local culture. Local materials and techniques should hence be innovated to create a new vernacular, still empowering the community, and at the same time making them ready for a durable future.

Adobe blocks drying in the sun Š Frank Stabel

Gravel earth Gravel earth is directly excavated from the site. It is a non-cultivatable soil, deprived of organic matter. It offers a good base for the adobe and rammed earth mixes, but must be reformulated through the addition of a clayey soil and of fibers to arrive at a soil with admissable resistance.

Adobe Sun-dried soil blocks is one of the most ancient construction methods available. Its production is very local, and can generate revenue within communities, where there is 1 block maker for the whole village. Adobe’s can be bond as complex as any brick bonding.

Clayey soil from the banks of Oued Souss This soil comes from 2 km from the site, on the banks of the river Oued. The soil is a result of a natural separation between the different granules flowing through the river. On the river bedding, there are stones and sands, while the silts and clays are on the river banks. This is a very fine soil rich in clay and silts, and is used to reformulate the white earth excavated on site, to give more cohesion to the mix. This earth is more difficult to extract than site soil, and has been added in percentages of around 1020% to the site soil.

Rammed earth Rammed earth or “Leh” in Berber language is omnipresent in Moroccan construction culture. In the city as well as in rural area’s, suitable earth is rammed into a formwork until walls are built. Today rammed earth is principally used for enclosure walls, also in the preschool of Aknaibich.

Wood Comes from local eucalyptus and palm trees, which are not the best construction wood, but usable for smaller spans, if treated well with oils. A big span is made combining several wooden beams, to one beam, subsequently spanned in a zigzag covering with smaller wooden sections.

Ratan Deprived of workable wood and wooden plates on an industrial scale, Moroccan carpenters use ratan amongst others, to weave in between wooden beams in order to provide a flat roof. The execution has to be meticulously done, since the ratan stays visible from the inside. For outdoor use, they can be woven into panels which can be replaced easily once every two years.

Oued nature stone These stones are found in the river bed of the Oued, and are traditionally used for foundations. The specific Oued stone, different from other sedimentary rocks, is known for its strength and durability. These stones have been processed to form an even wall surface, safe for the kids. They also have been used in the preschool foundations.

Cement “where it is necessary� To answer to paraseismatoc challenges, cement is used in the ring beams of the building and in the foundations. Cement is thus used for strategic issues, the base of the walls as well as the base of the flat roof loads.

‘Tamelass’ To protect the adobes from weather and impact, a rendering of straw, sand and earth is conceived: the local tehcnique of ‘Tamelas’. It is a thick rendering rich in clay applied by local workman and craft on the exterior walls of the preschool classroom of Aknaibich.

‘Nouss-nouss’ In interior spaces the plastering is more fine and more worked. They define the look and feel of a space, and offer a good protection against impact, while also reflecting light to make the space more luminous. “Nouss-nouss” or “half-half” in Berber language is a plaster existing from sieved clayey soil and gypsum. These surfaces might well be decorated with paint of engravings in the plaster, as per traditional practices. Nouss-nouss is used as interior finishing in the preschool classroom of Aknaibich.

Traditional earthen flat roof In a very warm and arid climate, the flat roof is the best technique to prevent warmth accumulation in interior spaces, if the flat roof is thick, heavy and massive to slow down the heating process of the roof. In the preschool project the traditional earthen flat roof is extra insulated with 10 cm of cork.

Rainwater spouts In Morocco, rains are few but torrential. To evacuate rainwater, spouts are installed, locally made from baked clay soil. These evacuate the water and lead them at least 1 meter away from the base of the walls, when falling, as to avoid splash water erosion.

Knowledge transfer Chapter 3

A study of the material earth in order to improve its performance Raw earth as a building material is more fragile and variable than conventional or industrial building materials. Analysis needs to be done and modifications made to ensure the material is up for contemporary standards. These innovations are an important part of the way towards a “new vernacular� since they use traditional techniques and build on them to generate new material possibilities. Most tests can be made on field to have an idea of the earth’s quality. On site, following tests were done: cigar test, bottle test, pastille test, permeability test, water capillary suction test, flexion test, abrasion test. This gave us already a good idea of which kinds of site soil we had. Furthermore, samples were taken to the laboratory, where we performed a sieve test to determine the granule sizes in the soil, and a sedimentory test, to determine the amount of clays in the material which passed the last sieve. Also water content was measured, and density of site soils. Based on all these data, the site soil is modified with other soils and sometimes stabilizers, to become performant materials up to the highest contemporary standards in terms of structural stability, hygrothermic behavior, quality of finishing, thermal inertia, insulative value, ...

Flexion test on the adobe blocks

Abrasion test according to African Regional Standards.

Laboratory Compression test with hydraulic machine

Water capillary suction test.

Plaster test with different amounts of sand and straw.

Workshop with 25 students of KULeuven Architecture Brussels Campus BC studies organized an international research and design week, for to the International Master of Science in Architecture of the KU Leuven faculty of architecture. This explorative week held in Aknaibich aimed to develop hands-on and practical experience of vernacular building techniques and to apply this knowledge in collaboration with local community members on several punctual designs for the sustainable development of the village of Aknaibiche. This five-day workshop challenged 25 students to understand the logic and strength of traditional earthen materials as well as their possible contribution to the challenges of contemporary architecture.

The workshop set up focused on the interaction between action and research. The first part was the hands-on experience where the students were physically working with the local materials - and by doing so discovering the potential of the vernacular techniques. A second part was the application of this practical experience on a site-specific project where the student had to creatively and instinctively work out a feasible project for the community of Aknaibich. These explorations were intended to bring the students closer to materials and their constructive features, bridging the existing gap between architectural education and the craftsmanship of architecture.

Group of students executing on site earth tests and making designs for Aknaibich ŠIrantzu Abaurrea

Workshop plastering ŠIrantzu Abaurrea

Picture of the 25 architecture students of the KU Leuven

Picture of the workers

THANK YOU! M A M O T H + BC architects & studies in collaboration with Frank Stabel, Thomas Joos, Alina Negru Carole Fournier et Elisabetta Carnevale

Website: M A M O T H: (in progress) BC-as: Email: M A M O T H: BC-as:

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