Casablanca’s Villa Z reflects Morocco’s changing social and cultural identity

“Within us there is always a limit set by tradition, which lives side by side with the aspiration to reach a certain Western contemporaneity,” said Moroccan architect Mohamed Amine Siana. “Until we find the right balance between the two, we will experience a sort of personality disorder, and that’s exactly what’s happening in architecture – signs and symbols become insignificant pastiches outside their temporal contexts.”

Much like the rest of the Middle East and North Africa, Casablanca’s social and cultural identity has been on loose footing for some time now as it navigates changes dictated by the present, and the city has found itself in between: between social conduct set by regional Islamic values and those by European secularism; between the traditional and the modern; and between open and closed. Villa Z, designed by Siana, is an attempt to explore the space between these boundaries, which are seemingly opposing and considered inherently incompatible.

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“Villa Z was driven by one sentence,” said Siana. “The client said: ‘I want to have an open feeling in a house protected from the sights of the neighbourhood.’ So the project was a challenge between this desire for seclusion and my belief in an open and light architecture.”

The home is the product of strict city regulations, which ultimately confine buildings to tightly sized, square-shaped plots. Aiming to avoid a typical white cube, a prevalent architecture that has long marked Casablanca’s urban identity, Siana drew inspiration from local culture, while opening up to ‘new horizons’. The intention, he said, was to build a house that felt discrete, while balancing between introversion and extroversion. Throughout, this is expressed via patios, interior gardens, wall openings and mashrabiya screens.

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The home also incorporates a number of ecological and passive solutions to maintain the best possible climate inside. Thus, between the waved opaque walls, a motorised ceiling canopy can be opened to light up the centre of the house or closed to protect it from rain and cold.

This was originally published in Architectural Digest Middle East in February 2020.

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