On building a disappearing city in the Moroccan Sahara

"As designers, architects know how to build cities, but our field as a whole has not yet grasped how to make them disappear."

Over the past 10 000 years, human beings have transformed the climate, drained the earth of its resources and shifted the balance between man and nature.

In his TEDx talk architect Tarik Oualalou says that in a nutshell we have created the age of man, our very own geological era. "But if our nature is disappearing then a new one must emerge and architecture is the relationship humans build between the earth and the sky. If we are to survive on this earth we have to completely rethink our relationship with the earth and reinvent the way we inhabit the earth."

Oualalou co-founded OUALALOU + CHOI along with Linna Choi. They work out of their two offices in Paris and Casablanca in Morocco.

One of their most popular works, which sits within the most visited archaeological site in Morocco, is the Volubilis Museum. The museum was designed to enhance the historical significance of the UNESCO World Heritage site.

The site dates back to the time of the Romans and due to the lack of urban development in the area, it still closely resembles what the Romans saw in their time. The volume of the museum is embedded into the hill so that visitors do not initially see its presence. 

One of their recent speculative projects looked at what a future city in the Morrocan desert could look like. The Sahara desert is very hot during the day but cooler at night. The architects looked to the fact that Morocco was a land of experimentation into architecture and urbanism for the better part of the 20th century.

What resulted is a city that sits below and above the ground so that people can have a choice on which part of the city to inhabit depending on the weather. The project was shown as part of the Moroccan Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. 

The unique georgraphy of the Moroccan Sahara and the limits it places on architects climatically, socially and in the political sense meant that they had to question how to intergrate solutions into such a marginalised territory.

The architects say they believe in also applying old methods in the creation of new cities: "To build a city too quickly is a dangerous act. Yet we must do it. We must find ways to construct new urban territories, and quickly. The world is urbanizing at an astonishingly rapid rate, and the desire for cities keeps growing. We must learn to create spaces of urbanity. How can we reinvent old methods to make new cities?"

All photographs supplied by OUALALOU + CHOI with photography work from Luc Boegly and Elio Germani.