Meet the architect working on a conservation plan for the Sidi Harazem thermal baths near Fez

You may have noticed from listening to Why Morocco podcast that I’m rather interested in architecture. After all, Morocco is home to endless inspirational interior design and architectural styles. Back in 2017, I started a Tasting Marrakech Gueliz tour to wander with travellers through the colonial and post-independence architectural gems in Marrakech’s new city. Meeting the founders of MAMMA Group and roaming around some of Casablanca’s modernist architecture is always a highlight. And after reading a feature in the New York Times about the Sidi Harazem thermal baths restoration project, I knew I needed to get in touch with Aziza Chaouni, the architect behind the conservation of this brutalist complex.

Her response was incredibly receptive and I was keen to chat with her given that we have swapped home countries. You see, Aziza lives between Toronto, Canada where she works as an architect and is also a tenured professor at the University of Toronto’s John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design, and Fez, Morocco where her architecture firm is located.

The Sidi Harazem thermal baths near Fez not only have healing properties, but the complex that Jean-Francois Zevaco designed in 1960 is done in a style that is seriously growing on me – brutalism. On Why Morocco episode 28, Aziza reflects on travelling to the baths as a child with her grandmother who visited twice a year, seeking relief for her rheumatism. She recalls that as a child Moroccans partook in thermalism as a leisure activity, but with the arrival of beach resorts in Morocco this complex comprised of bungalows, pools, and hotels was slowly abandoned and some elements closed down. Despite this, Aziza says many Moroccans were still coming for the healing powers the site is reputed for.

And so it was during her years as a graduate student in architecture that she returned to the complex and developed a fascination for Morocco’s little-known post-independence architecture, which she admires as it “integrates modern language with local sensitivities”.  Now, with the help of the Getty Foundation’s Keeping it Modern grant, Aziza’s working with the building’s owner and seeking input from the local community to develop a conservation management plan for the complex.

Beyond this, her credits also include transforming a slaughterhouse in Casablanca into a cultural space, working on the restoration of the oldest existing university in the world – al-Qarawiyyin University in Fez and more. In fact, in the interview she shares details about a project she wrapped up in southern Morocco in December.

Listen in as Aziza talks about post-independence architecture, her past and on-going projects, the role of the architect and the state of architecture in Morocco:

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