In late 2006, we were asked to consider an unusual project; a new house on the beach in Morocco. How can you refuse of course, but in reality a project with an extremely limited budget. Construction costs and design fees were hopelessly inadequate (Mark won’t mind me saying this) but the idea was compelling, so Justine and I jumped on a plane and set off on what has become a 5 year journey.
Mark Anstice, explorer, adventurer, documentary television film maker & writer had bought the site, almost on the beach, in Moulay Bouzergtoun, close to Essaouira, the fabled ‘windy’ town on Morocco’s west coast, as celebrated by Hendrix, Stones and other musos of that era.
On site we were blown away by the sheer wonder of such a building plot, 130m x 50m sloping towards the sea. Met a local builder, spent a couple of days looking at construction, design and philosophy in the area; had a few nice tagine dish meals as well!
We were to use local materials; timber, stone gathered up from the site, the wonderful ‘tadilac’ render and importantly we were to use local labour and skills.
Maximum spans of 4.5m using the local un-sawn timbers set up the scale; random rubble walls, stone arches, no lintols and definitely no mechanical devices; no electricity at this point but simply a donkey for carrying the stones. A well, mansized,30m deep, was sunk; without water it would have been a non-starter (no mains) and Mark was off and running.
Slowly the shell rose from the ground, ably assisted by the donkey and supervised by goats. Mainly single storey (with a bit of two), a ‘tower’, several courtyards and five guest rooms, (Mark has ideas about running a wind/kite surfing school at some stage) the building now had a name ‘The Serai’ (Palace,Inn, peaceful haven).
The latest message from Mark, shows him and his new wife Ayelen, living in a partially completed building, some windows glazed, three habitable rooms, outside loo, tower bedroom and the beginnings of the tadillac render adding a bit of finish. The garden which is beginning to emerge, has terraces in honey coloured stone walls, and will eventually provide vegetables to compliment the ‘haggled for’ fish from the neighbour.
The project was and still is fascinating, and has cemented my commitment to using local, natural materials, local skills and traditional techniques. The harmony with the site, surroundings and environment is so evidently obvious. Lets think on that.
Footnote: the North African building techniques used in the Moroccan house are very similar to the examples of traditional construction that impressed me in my time in Nigeria in the ‘70s, I’ve got the books! but that is for another story or another blog.
By Ian Logan