What is the use? Possible asset (re)valorisation strategies for Adkhs

By Carolina Beovic

The visiting foreigner goes through several different layers of discovery, each adding up to a different postcard while getting to know the province of Tata.

The landscape is very similar to certain Latin American landscapes.  The distances, the dryness, the valleys, the light, and the construction materials make the experience strangely close to the Chilean North. This place however has not yet been exposed to mass tourism. On the contrary, it has seen many men leave for the cities, and it contains a community that has remained there preserving their customs. The population has been moving gradually towards the outskirts of the town to larger and more separate buildings, leaving behind the old town, where the Mosque, Granary, and a semi-abandoned village centre hold great picturesque attractive, but also visible and important cumulative destruction.


The built environment evidences change in the occupation of the residential land, and in the characteristics of the houses, with three recognizable zones in which the density varies from an intricate centre of small and interconnected constructions to bigger and isolated houses; with in addition a transfer of materiality from the drystone walls and wooden beams, to the combination of contemporary materials that bring new architectural languages to the village.

This transfer of constructive tradition, from the local materiality of stone and scarce wood, in a tight communal grain, to faster and more voluminous construction, in reinforced concrete, is something we observe in many distant places with similar characteristics. The fast construction, the cheap material, and the structural resistance make the decision to use concrete also seem fast. And this derives in a new likeness among distant settlements against the course of each local identity.

The built environment as a common good suffers from this. A valorization of the new to the detriment of the existing is visible. In addition to the gradual destruction of the old collective and individual constructions, a loss of constructive knowledge is generated, of the common history that sustained the human effort to arrange the available material in such a way that it conforms a collective structure of political, symbolic and social value that becomes a landmark within the territory.

The collective granary, in the eyes of a foreigner, imposes itself within the landscape, having dominion over the valley and being visible from the palm grove. From the other side of the river, when approaching  Adkhs, it appears as an imposing walled structure. Together with the agricultural terraces and the village, they are a transformation of the landscape that concentrates years of history and collective activity whose real meaning today is in the hands of those who are also the interface between the visitor and the structure, the local community.

Beovic, 2019.

 

How can the notion of value of what exists, of the common heritage, be reinforced in the face of other imported values and the incorporation of tourism as a constant economic activity?

A presentation of the crafting works by female community of the village, where they incorporated new artisan techniques showed, besides a brilliant initiative towards the empowerment of the community, an explicit desire to communicate authorship: who made what objects, how they were built, what is the link between the people who made them. This interaction between the visitor and the author puts on the table an aspect of the local culture that is also visible when interacting with the younger generation of the village.

Personal experience

The spontaneous expression of the Adkhs children while visiting the town shed a light on key aspects of heritage appreciation. The youngest generation of the village remains there at least until their teens, attending the same school together, playing group games and moving around the village freely and safely. They have a strong and clear will to reveal their identity, their links and their belonging to the place. In spite of a big language barrier, their own name, family ties and place of residence are key aspects of ‘who is who’ when presenting themselves.

As a South American visitor, I found myself in a place that repeatedly presented itself as a parallel to where I came from, with familiar landscapes, familiar distances, long drives through hills and winding roads that time and again unveiled new compositions  of rock, horizon and sky. Colors, depths, and sometimes the precious furrow of water.

The interaction with a group of girls took me by surprise and by the hand. I had to change the course of the day and concentrate on this new experience.  This opened the door to a new, different and rich layer of discovery of the unique place I was in.

The girls took me by the hand.  The tour of the village was transformed into a cultural exchange in which my name, their names, my age, their ages were repeated; they showed me a song and I sang one to them, all in turns and with growing enthusiasm. The girls were a very tight group, very communicative. The boys stayed behind my back, observant and shy but enthusiastic as well.

The girls showed great eagerness to teach me about themselves, who they were, who in the group was part of their family. They showed me songs making me follow the rhythm, games of round plays in which they took on  roles that they interchanged in various iterations.

Ten girls drew pictures in my notebook. Thanks to the little friendly interpreter who knew French, I was able to ask them to draw their favourite place in town, or their home.

Beovic, 2019.
Beovic, 2019.

 

In the series of drawings they took turns making, there are consistent elements: a symmetrical flat roofed house with a centered door with lock, windows with interior divisions, people associated with the house and the big and central signature of the author of the drawing.  Other elements stand out, such as tall trees (close to palm trees) with thick trunks. Clouds, birds, roofs, even rain.

In general, the drawings were a tool for self-presentation, each girl associated her work with her house, and put her name close to it. All the interaction revolved around who each one was.

This improvised activity, in addition to a beautiful collection of drawings, left traces in relation to where the emphasis can be placed when talking about heritage preservation.

Beovic, 2019.

 

The school in the town of Adkhs has four classrooms, attended by children up to the age of 13. The school is used in morning and afternoon shifts, and the children receive an education consistent with Morocco’s national education program. The children draw pictures usually for dates associated with national or international important dates, and learn about the national history. The teachers come from other locations to teach, so most of them are not part of the local community outside their work hours. There is, at this school level at least, no approach to local communal history, nor is there an explicit request or incentive to draw, outside of specific occasions and themes.

In the classroom it can be observed that the children’s identity (name, photograph) is part of one of several mural paintings, and that the class has a small museum in one corner, full of group treasures, where drawings, objects and models of diverse origin that hold value for the group stand out.

12-13-14. Adkhs school. central courtyard and 4th year class museum. Beovic, 2019 .

 

The way of life as a heritage. My house as heritage.

In the activity with the group of women showing their crafts, in the school, and in the children’s drawings and games, a clear common intention in women and children to showcase what is theirs associated to their own identity is evident. Women and children are an important group that remains permanently in the village. There is a deep-rooted pride in what is done (crafts), the locale (the houses, the palm grove, the landmarks) and the individuals (this was woven by my daughter, this house is mine, this is my family in my drawing).

15-16-17. Group of women showing their creative process and material use in the production of new had craft products. Beovic, 2019.

 

18-19-20. Hand craft products, finished and unfinished. Beovic, 2019.

 

The use of the built structures preserved until today, especially of those carefully restored recently, will surely suffer continuous change like many other heritage sites that collect the treasure of common life in remote places and open their doors to tourism. The evolution of their use, from the preservation of the common wealth to their opening as an object to visit, leaves the weight of their permanent care in the hands of the local community.

The transfer of constructive knowledge to those working on heritage buildings’ restorations allows for an updated retraining that opens the way to the recovery of secondary structures, and the valorization of ancient construction techniques recovered today by Salima Naji’s work. This important transfer is key to the value preservation of the building within its context. If the recovered knowledge is extended to the local community, local people become the empowered guardians of the memory, techniques and meaning given by generations to this built environment.

Beovic, 2019.

 

What remains in the collective memory? Can the common Imaginary be channeled towards a built environment consistent with the inherited heritage?

It is the permanence of the meaning embedded in construction that can ensure the conservation of the building. The reason for piling up rocks to achieve such a magnificent structure, the work embedded in the walls of a remote location, can be equated to the work of weaving, to the authorship of drawing (this was woven by my daughter, this was drawn by me, this house was built by my father, this barn was built by my ancestors).

Considering that opening up to tourism sometimes entails drastic transformations in the social fabric, in the occupation of spaces, in the buildings themselves and in the natural environment; empowering the community by providing in-depth knowledge linked to local authorship has the potential to root in people the (re)appreciation of heritage as a common wealth.

Drawing is an important learning tool, especially when associated with existing architecture. Whoever draws what exists learns about the subject without an intermediary passing on the visual information he/she acquires as knowledge. This perception and reproduction of the form implies quantifying what is seen, acquiring notions of proportion, internalizing shapes in an active way (versus what seeing a photograph or simple observation implies), revising the design decisions that determined the shape of an object, and sharing the apprehended information by contributing a unique point of view.

There are participatory examples of initiatives that incorporate children’s drawings in the documentation of the built environment, which seek to gradually reformulate the relationship between the inhabitants of a place y and the heritage buildings present in their surroundings, encouraging the notion of belonging in relation to the built environment.

One example is the work developed by the Caravatti+Caravatti architecture office in the Republic of Mali, incorporating participatory activities to represent new buildings for the communities that receive them. With this the design process has as an added value a pedagogical aspect of great impact on the daily lives of families, incorporating children and families in the design of outdoor common areas.

Laboratori di progettazione con studenti scuola comunitaria. Location: Fansirà Corò, Beledougou Region, Republic of Mali. Caravatti + Caravatti. www.caravatti.it

 

Another example is the architectural guides drawn by children from Urbana, Illinois in the United States in the early 1990s. A small-scale project with impact on the local community, in which children from a local school toured the city, had talks with architects, studied vocabulary, and did research on the buildings to produce compilation books that in turn were a documentation of the built environment and a tool for visitors to use.

Children, Architecture, and History: A Child’s Guide of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign” by the children of Leal School, Option 3/4C, 1990-1991.

 

A document of local authorship for tourism and public use.

Producing documentation of the built environment incorporating the authorship of the younger generation gives the publication value in the local family nuclei. The transmission of oral, constructive and community traditions can become part of the daily communication between one generation and another. If the process is also accompanied by those who are working on recovering these historical milestones, then the tools of language, descriptive writing, history, and analysis are also reinforced, directly from those who today are generating new knowledge about these monuments.

For a child and his family, it is more impressive and memorable to have his work published than to receive an informative book. Publishing the drawings and history of these monuments made by children who see them in their daily lives, allows, in addition to disseminating the information they process as a creative work, to know the point of view of that new generation regarding these monuments. It leaves a record of a historical moment in the perception of heritage by the surrounding community. A stronger bond with common property also makes it possible to prevent physical damage, loss of artefacts, and intentional intervention.

If the representations become something that accompanies the tourist visit to a remote and special place like Adkhs, in the form of a book, a guide, an application or a website, this element also has the potential to be a facilitating interface between the visitor and the host. This representation process becomes relevant insofar as the visitor/inhabitant’s knowledge of the environment becomes direct and personal, and the publication of this representation of their common heritage significantly encourages the participation of local families in its preservation and in the building of a common imaginary of what their heritage entails.

The town of Adkhs, with its mosque, collective granary, ancient village, palm grove, cemetery, farming terraces and its active and communicative community as a whole is “illustrative of the evolution of human society and settlement over time, under the influence of the physical constraints and/or opportunities presented by their natural environment and of successive social, economic and cultural forces, both external and internal” as stated by the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention when defining a Cultural Landscape as the combined work of nature and man. The value of the physical and cultural heritage on the site is palpable and impressive.  Hope remains that knowledge will be passed on to future generations so that what they incorporate into the built environment contributes to the value of the treasure they have today.

Beovic, 2019.

 

References:

  • Children, Architecture, and History: A Child’s Guide of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign” by the children of Leal School, Option 3/4C, 1990-1991.
  • Children, Architecture, and History: A Child’s Walking Tour Guide of Urbana” by the children of Leal School, Option 3/4C, 1989-1990.
  • https://globalheritagefund.org/what-we-do/projects-and-programs/sacred-granaries-morocco/
  • https://www.caravatti.it/progetto/laboratori-di-progettazione-con-studenti-scuola-comunitaria/
  • World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate. Published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Nairobi, Kenya; the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Paris, France; and the Union of Concerned Scientists, Cambridge, MA, USA.
  • Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Intergovernmental Committee for The Protection of The World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Whc.19/01. 10 july 2019. https://whc.unesco.org/en/guidelines

This text was produced as part of the Phd Seminar « Designing an interdisciplinary research and education concept in Ecological Habitats » (ENAC Exploratory Grants 2018).