Images by Thomas Noceto, Cinzia Romanin, and Jolien Bosmans

Locals help build a community centre for women in south-west Morocco

The recently founded women’s association of Ouled Merzoug, near the Atlas Mountains, has been given a new space for its members to meet.

Located in Ouled Merzoug, a small village near the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, a recently completed building constructed by local community members now houses the newly founded women’s association, Association des Femmes d’Ouled Merzoug (AFOM).

Designed and built in collaboration with the Building Beyond Borders team from Universiteit Hasselt School of Expert Education (UHasselt SEE), the centre offers local women a place to share their crafts with the community and visitors. In addition, it offers work and learning spaces.

The project’s site is located on a slope, in a gully that leads the water from the mountains to the agricultural fields of the ‘Palmeraie’ and the river during periods of heavy rain. Because two often-used shortcuts run across the site, locals walk by regularly as they travel to the village centre, preschool, primary school or nearby football field.

According to the project statement, the site’s features offered inspiration for the design of the ‘Women’s House’. Rather than being placed in the centre of the gully, it sits along the ridge of the hill and follows the natural topography of the landscape. Comprising two volumes, the centre retains a connection with the village on both sides of its site, while also maintaining views of the sunrise and sunset.

The centre’s construction, which began in April 2019, applied local and regenerative materials, as well as a combination of traditional and contemporary building techniques. For example, the building’s exterior uses granite rock, which was excavated from the surrounding hills, while the inner walls consist of adobe bricks, and the roof and ceiling apply eucalyptus beams and reeds.

The architects and volunteers, which included local craftspeople, then used different mixes of earth, river sand, lime and straw for the finishing of the walls and floors.

For the interior of the centre, local designs were applied throughout, including woven curtains, a cob oven, and ceramic objects.

Two of the informal paths cut through the building, leading locals directly to the centre’s heart, or the ‘cour’, which connects the two volumes of the house. Accessible by both volumes is a large garden ideal for leisure and resting, and which provides plenty of shade thanks to the different native forest trees and shrubs.