‘The Land is located about ten kilometres south of Marrakech. An extensive observation of the site suggested we reduce built-up areas in order to preserve its wild. The main building was positioned in the centre, 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 of the Atlas, best orientations so as to protect from the sun or the wind. The site nuisances have also influenced the architecture; two parallel concrete sails create a noise and visual barriers to the west.
There is a subtle link that exists between its architecture and cinema, as 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 up, revealing bit by bit various elements which constitute the house. In the distance, a white square when approached becomes a cube, a white wall a tube, and 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, with a vertiginous rise of steps, a plunging view into space or a panoramic view of the horizon. It is a real scenario which must be worked out with dynamic sequences, such as travelling, rotations, fixed framings that can finally transform into a zoom towards the infinite during a slow frontal movement.
The owner grew up in Saudi Arabia and Dubai. His mother, who now lives in the house, is an Egyptologist (The client lives there regularly). She participated in the sixties, in excavations of archaeological 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 are 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 rose 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 separated 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 consideration 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 colour, 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.
The most pleasant period is between October and April. The Winter is very mild, the temperature is on average between 20° and 23° at mid-day, allowing for lunch outside. However, as in all deserts, the nights are rather fresh and the temperature can fall between 4° and 5°.
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. Only the two bedrooms in the house have air conditioning which is used between 10 and 15 days per year during the Summer season. The hottest months are from June to September.’