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Exploring Invisible Architecture: Morocco's Answer to the High Line Exploring Invisible Architecture: Morocco's Answer to the High Line

Exploring Invisible Architecture: Morocco's Answer to the High Line

by Shelley Hornstein

July 11, 2013

Sometimes the most interesting explorations can be found through what I call “invisible architecture” or the discovery of what exists in the city but was once hidden to the naked eye. We’ve seen people discovering the formerly “invisible” in recent projects like the High Line in New York, which was always there, in a sense, but was just waiting to be discovered. At the same time, another invisible architecture project emerged, but in Fez, Morocco, and it calls upon visitors to look down and around rather than up and out.

The Fez River Project, spearheaded by award-winning architect Aziza Chaouni and her Bureau of Ecological Architecture & Systems of Tomorrow (Bureau EAST, now Aziza Chaouni Projects), revitalized the city by restoring and uncovering the Fez River, which runs through its center. Although the dense and labyrinthine medina of Fez has been a Unesco Heritage Site since 1981, the river was hidden under concrete until Chaouni’s project was unveiled (literally!) in 2008.

With more than 200 water sources for public use such as hamams and basins for ablutions, Fez is often referred to as “The City of a Thousand Fountains.” Once considered the fluid and raging spine of the city, the Fez River (Oued Fes) became increasingly tainted as a source of clean water when the population turned to it as a convenient sewage outlet for domestic and industrial waste. Toxic chemicals (sulphur ulphate, formic acid, and liquid chrome) were dumped into the once pristine source from the leather tanning industry and copper crafts. Because these industries have contributed to the history and tourism of Fez for hundreds of years, the production only continued to accelerate. Tragically, the City of a Thousand Fountains instead became known as the Oued Boukhrareb—or, the River of Trash.  

What did the authorities do? To obscure this disgraceful eyesore and block the stench, the river was paved over to become a road and parking lot. But in 2004, Unesco’s World Heritage Committee took official note and demanded that the enormous slab be demolished. To quote Chaouni: “For the river to reappear, this must disappear.” 

Images via Aziza Chaouni

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Exploring Invisible Architecture: Morocco's Answer to the High Line