Under the Palm Trees

Sultan Youssef ben Tachfine founded in the 11th century Marrakech as the new capital of the Maroc empire in the middle of a desert plateau on the northern foot of the High Atlas.  Not only was the Medina constructed, but also a territorial network of underground canals for irrigation of the areas around, called Khettaras, creating a vast artificial oasis of date palm trees (Phoenix dactylifera L.): the Palmeraie, a  significant territorial system anchored today as a landmark in Moroccan identity.

Since the French protectorate, the Palmeraie became the source of urban expansion and successively turned in the last decades into a sprawling suburb without scale and limit or any spatial logic that is heavily exploiting natural resources of water, soil, and vegetation and marginalized the local communities and their rural culture. Luxury resorts, villas, golf courses, and settlements for an international elite with the un-proportional need for water for lifestyle, lush gardens, and pools lowered the groundwater level for dozens of meters in a short time, dried out the traditional Khettaras. Most of the Palm trees died, and the local communities were impoverished.

Since 2001, UNESCO and official institutions from Morocco have faced the problem and taken initiatives to retrieve the Palmeraie of Marrakech. But climatic change with years of never-seen drought and never-measured peeks of temperature turn even the most intensively irrigated golf greens into shabby patchwork quilts, and the way of urbanizing and living in the Palmeraie gets into its final phase of obsolescence. Even though the earthquake of September 2023 damaged Marrakech and its surroundings less destructively compared to the mountain villages in the High Atlas, the consequences for the poorer population in the 'douars' of the Palmeraie are furthermore threatening.

Just in October 2023, FIFA designated the World Soccer Championship 2030 to Morocco/Portugal/Spain. Marrakech, and particularly the Palmeraie, will be one of the main competition sites.

The option studio Under the Palm Trees will engage these topics under the ambiguous notation of the beauty and imagination of an oasis and the reality of death, drought, and destruction:
   – Understanding and mapping the evolution of the Plamerie of Marrakech as an artificial oasis created in a traditional Muslim-Berber way of settlement in arid areas and the architectonical and general culture of this specific territorial approach;
   – Elaboration of new design-based strategies for water management and local solutions for villages, agriculture, resorts, and other kinds of settlements valorizing the specific cultural dimension;
   – Revaluation of „earth building“ and traditional adobe construction techniques of the Muslim-Berber culture under the view of a post-seismic defamation;
   – Integration of new sources of decentralized energy production, smart grids, and alternative mobility in a renewed and reconstructed landscape with historical value;
   – Spatial and territorial negotiation of extreme social differences for synergetic design solutions;
   – Proposals for temporary interventions for the FIFA World Soccer Championship 2023, ensuring synergetic effects for the territory.

Every student should develop a general position on at least one of the topics and develop large-scale or local design solutions for the communities. The critical reading of the Palmeraie, its threats, and the elaborated design solutions will be site-specific but also generally valid for similar situations in the Global South … and not only! A study trip to Marrakech is planned.