A modernist thermal bath complex on an ancient site near Fez may return to its original concrete splendor.
When Aziza Chaouni was a girl, she spent holidays with her grandmothers at Sidi Harazem, a thermal bath complex built next to an ancient magnesium-rich spring about seven miles east of Fez, Morocco.1
“Morocco wanted to appear as a progressive young country,” Ms. Chaouni said. Mr. Zevaco reinterpreted European modernism in a local way, by organizing the project around an interior courtyard, with green plantings and reflecting pools that cooled the air. Narrow channels of water wove throughout the complex, leading visitors along the circulation paths.
But by the time Ms. Chaouni was an adult herself, Sidi Harazem had fallen on hard times. ,,, A renovation in 2000 had tried to make the still-open parts of the site more traditionally Moroccan, veneering the concrete with green tile and carved wooden panels.
In 2001, on a visit home, Ms. Chaouni went to Sidi Harazem for a swim and was horrified by the renovation.2 As an Aga Khan Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, she studied the architecture of tourism in post-independence Morocco, including work by Mr. Zevaco and fellow members of GAMMA like Elie Azagury and Mourad Ben Embarek. Armed with that knowledge, she approached the CDG, convincing Rachid Karkari, the official in charge of Sidi Harazem, that their duckling could — with proper intervention — turn back into a swan.
With Ms. Chaouni as lead, a team including architects, engineers, researchers and photographers from North America and Africa won a $150,000 Keeping It Modern grant in 2017 from the Getty Foundation. Their goal is to restore Sidi Harazem as an architectural masterpiece, building as before on the natural oasis that has drawn pilgrims since the 14th century, but also adding year-round facilities, creating local jobs and expanding the urban transportation network.
- 1. One grandmother loved the new complex, designed by Jean-François Zevacoand completed in 1960, soon after Moroccan independence. “She was born and raised in Fez, in the old city, and she was very keen on alternative medicine,” said Ms. Chaouni, a professor at the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design at the University of Toronto and principal of Aziza Chaouni Projects. “She was amazed by the new facilities. We would stay in the bungalows that were modeled after the medina — as a child it was like a maze.”
- 2. “We were amazed by the splendor of the plans drawn by Zevaco,” said Mr. Karkari, pointing to the architect’s rendering of the thermal station entrance. In that drawing, called “The Signal,” plants and people climb up a hillside defined by ridges of concrete architecture, a building that rises up and spreads out at the same time. “We hope, through this project, to restore the image of Zevaco’s work so that it regains its former glory.”