By Sylvie Tram Nguyen
This village located in Adkhss is one of the many ancient granary villages in Tata province, within the Souss Massa central region of Morocco. It located within a fast oasis landscape in a pre-Saharan dessert territory, which is also affected by floods.
Inhabitants come from Amazighs and Arab tribes. The Tata Province population is approximately 117,841 in 2014. Whereas the estimate area of the village in Adkhss is less than 500 (approximately 80 families reside within the study site). According to the governor, this area has great prospects in cultivating tourism and should leverage capital to valorise its assets in heritage.
The region consists of an ecosystem of exploited waters along the north – south river stream, supporting a vast oasis landscape. Extensive palm grove growth exists along the hillside, which are irrigated by a network of canals from water intake upstream of the wadi. Sequias, that is gravity irrigated canals facilitate the transport of water to cultivate terraces, which occur in three different plateaus of crop types. These water systems foster an oasis of ecosystems services in fertile landscape for the cultivation of palms and other agricultural foods.
A view of granary from grand oasis
B view of palm oasis & crop field terraces
C channelized water on embankment of oasis
Panoramic view of grand oasis, north – south corridor
The Resilient System of Granaries
Despite the Tata village’s history of resilience centred on the collective granary, which has over the centuries safeguarded generations after generations from issues of war, famine, and natural disasters; the current day urban-rural territory no longer appears to promote collective spaces, for daily lifestyles in work and live. The ancient rituals behind the granaries were a model for social cohesion. It was based on printed formulas whereby the measure of grain was fairly devised between different villages. As a system of redistribution of the community’s goods between different families of trades and specialization. It was essentially a means of safeguarding the future in times of needs, a system that the community could rely on if there happened to be a shortage in resources – in such times of hardship.
These attic storage systems, were the space whereby the sharing and re-sharing kind of ritual was performed among representatives of the village. Villagers gathered at the attic and the designated grains were dumped and measured onto the ‘l’aire à batter,’ which was followed by a ritual at the Mosque. In contemporary times, this system has extended to the management of other common goods such as electricity. And a more complex system of sharing has divided and subdivided the granary spaces into many compartments, to accommodate for extended family trees.
A civilization once built on the backbone of a collective management and organizational system, has over time disappeared as the ‘savoir faire’ of the community and become archived as the village’s historical heritage pride, its ruins seen as a local landmark. Today, the lack of this kind of resilient system—this system of survival—has left the Ta Ta village and its inhabitants vulnerable to the future challenges of urbanization and environmental shifts.
The building typology mapping to the right, shows the distinct difference in scale and organization between the formation of the ancient village to the East, and its contemporary expansion area to the West. The ancient ruins of the fortified village and its extended outer ring, are left abandoned and not well preserved. There are approximately 80 contemporary courtyard homes and 8-10 contemporary homes which are not either regularly occupied, or empty.
A ancient village ruins
B view of village ruins, mosque, ancient granary and Saint – mosque
C Panoramic view looking north-east, from contemporary village area to ancient ruins, granary
The Oasis’ Ecosystem Services and Collective Spaces
The oasis ecosystem provides the community with flowing water streams, a part of which is diverted from upstream for village use. This river is controlled by a network of canals and a hydraulic dam, which controls the level and collection of waters upstream. Gravity based irrigation water canals run along both embankments of the river, to transport waters to the layered terraces at the outer fringe. However, the 2014 flood has left a mark in the village’s oasis, whereby the hydraulic dam has overflown and left the hydraulic system unable to recover. The oasis ecosystem is abundant in palm trees, which also includes other cultivated paddy fields. The main source of fresh water comes from an 8m deep well, extracting groundwater from the oasis – there is also an abandoned well at approximately 35m deep. Lastly a large water reservoir is located within the oasis whereby the distribution of water is rationed between families in the village.
Spaces for agriculture stretches within the vast landscape oasis, however, as individual properties—plots owned by different families. In this contemporary system, each family owns their own land for farming and agriculture and secures their future through the ownership and care of their own livestock. There are 3 levels of field terraces, designated for different crop types along the oasis’ hillside of the stepped landscape.
A mapping analysis of the open space organization shown to the right, illustrates that collective spaces established during the historical period are no longer used that way, in the contemporary fabric. The ancient village symbolizes the concept of the Nolli Plan, whereby public civic spaces are connected by passages, through indoor and outdoor spaces, centred on landmarks – in this case the Granary and its elements. However, the new expansion area is represented by a model of urban sprawl (the reversed figure-ground), whereby objects are scattered within a wider field – with random compositional arrangements. This leaves residual open spaces which are undefined and therefore left unmanaged. These open grounds appear abandoned, decayed or left with construction deposit.
A “Aires à battre”
B typical vacant open space / collective space
C Cemetery looking to Saint mosque
D dry well
E oasis mountain valley
F terraced palm tree oasis
G cultivated agricultural field
H cereal crop based on simple irrigation dike system
J Traces of river flow
Typological Analysis of the Territory
A clear typology of courtyard homes is paired with unidentifiable building types. A brief site visit partially confirms that these buildings, shown in dark brown, are most likely part of the family’s extended farm shed or associated small shop. Other undefined detached buildings include industrial such as textile, or public facilities such as schools. This creates a micro-ecosystem of live-work fabric, however scattered rather randomly across the outer edge of the village’s extended territory.
Across the territory, one can see fragmented large patches of vacant spaces, surrounded by ancient village ruins, however littered with residual decay from the ruins themselves or new construction material, and trash. These create unidentifiable large residual spaces in between cherished heritage sites, however lost in the landscape as terrain vague.
A walk thru the village reveals unmet demands for storage space or urban furniture, which is not provided in public spaces – they are met through local ‘savoir faire’ whereby existing material is recycled and used to construct ad-hoc needs for farming and other amenities. Women learn how to weave through a local training program to promote artisanship.
Commerce is established through informal tent set-ups and local farmers build their own sheds out of left over scrap found from industrial or construction sites, such as car parts and palm tree logs. They are self-efficient, producing their own food, and cultivate plants from the oasis to feed their livestock – which in turn provide them with milk, offspring to trade or meat in times of needs. Has farming become the village’s new system of resilience?
Despite these photos of historically collective public space, the reality is far from vibrant. Many open spaces appear abandoned as the remains of the ruins, or simply left with construction material or trash. There is a lack of shelter or urban furniture, which would make this harsh environment tolerable to occupy outdoors.
The landmark from the Mosque appears to be swimming in a sea of ruins. And the sheep are herded by the local farmers across the village along any walkable surfaces, therefore, there is no real collective spaces or designated grassland for livestock to graze on. It is an environment full of rocks, and ruins, hardly a habitable landscape to support community under such harsh conditions.
Imagining the Revitalisation of Collective Spaces within the Ecosystem
The aim is to revitalise the idea behind the ancient village’s granary system, as a resilient process of collective re-distribution of spaces centred on the management of water resources. And to establish a new relationship between its urban and rural milieu, as a contemporary village embodied by the oasis’ ecosystem services.
A new relationship between the ancient village and its urban expansion area should be established through the restructuration of interstitial territory, to promote the return to the collective. Social adaptation to modern day needs should be promoted through an elaboration of micro-ecosystem services in relationship between the land – system of waters, pasture, and ecologies, and the village residing and working there.
The system of collective space is proposed as a multifunctional space that functions as water hydrology, to improve the collection and retention of rainwater runoff as well as the occasional floods, and as a means of re-organizing the currently fragmented space with a distinct kind of collective micro-ecosystem. This new collective spaces would offer ecosystems services to better support local needs by better leveraging resources offered by the grand oasis.
As a continuous network of open spaces, a shared experience can be developed between the community. New and old landmarks between the ancient ruins and the new community spaces could build a special social cognitive memory of the contemporary place. The mix between old and new sense of identity shall essentially fosters community involvement, to sustain the future management of the area.
If this framework is successful in lifting the community spirit and creating more resilience among the locals, the village may be better prepared for any planned future eco-tourism. Rather than a threat, light tourism could possibly support the community with a sense of pride in its heritage and promote local knowledge such as activities in textiles, craftsmanship, agriculture and trade.
Apart from the preservation of heritage sites, the adaptive re-use of carefully designated empty village ruins could be converted into workshop spaces, educational or training grounds could be designed. The network of collective space could be utilized as designated touring grounds, to celebrate certain seasonal events or rituals as well as to buffer from access to more sensitive areas such as the granaries or other parts of the ruins or private residential quarters.
The specific integration between the oasis ecosystem services and the micro-economic activities between the ancient village and the extended local community would bolster social and environmental structures. And the resulting light eco-tourism could further support local economy and ensure the village’s future resilience via a renewed collective autonomy.
This text was produced as part of the Phd Seminar « Designing an interdisciplinary research and education concept in Ecological Habitats » (ENAC Exploratory Grants 2018).