Mud ( Rammed Earth, Loeh, Daub, Pise) is a traditional building material in Morocco. It has been used to construct buildings and walls ever since Settlements began and it is still the usual material of choice in rural and desert areas of the South and where finance is in short supply. For simple structures in a very hot dry climate it is a better choice than the more ‘modern’ cement. It is cheaper, quicker, better insulation in extreme temperatures, more able to cope with ground shifts, easier to change and adapt, completely ecological and far more beautiful………..being made of the ground where it stands, it naturally blends with it’s surrounding. In the past, particularly during the18th & 19th centuries when many of the great Kasbahs of the South were constructed, or enlarged, the structural and decorative possibilities of the material were developed and extended. Many of these Kasbahs were Jewish in origin, but the Kasbah at Bounou is completely Berber. The two previous sites were nearby on the opposite bank of the Draa River. The present structure, the third, was fully occupied until the start of a severe drought about 25 years ago. There are some very large shady Tamarisk trees surviving on the banks of the dried up River. A melancholy reminder of how very beautiful it must have been there once, a paradise for all, particularly for children to grow up in. Unfortunately some of the roofs of the Kasbah have now collapsed and drifting sand has invaded. Remarkably there is still a lot of the fine work still visible, inspite of occasional torrential rain storms and erroding strong winds. Some Berber families still inhabit the Kasbah and it seems that there might be some work of repair and possibly restoration undertaken in the near future. The river is occasionally full and flowing after heavy rain and winter runoff, more so in the past two years.
When Dar Sidi Bounou was aquired there was a small traditional one story house on the property. Rather than knock it down and start a new structure it was repaired and improved using traditional Beldi (rural) materials and techniques. My interest in Rammed Earth construction started when I accidentally discovered the work of the great Egyptian Architect, Hassan Fathy. In the course of the development of the property, further small buildings and walls have been constructed with Mud (Loeh), Palm Wood, Cassia and Bamboo.We are now starting more constructions, an atelier for me, some guest rooms, workrooms, storage, a cave salon, and some more animal houses.
We have engaged an excellent team of workers who have started building the new constructions in the traditional way…….the clay type top soil is moistened, dug up and mixed with sand, put in baskets and carried to the position of the wooden formers (2 M.x 1M. x 30 cm.) where is is bashed down with a heavy end on mallet. By the time the former is full, the Loeh is firm enough to remove the supports and move them forward, and then to continue on. When the first rows are dry more rows of blocks can be added on top. The former is then supported on pieces of wood placed across the dry lower blocks. Smaller ‘bricks’ for dividing walls and detailed construction are made by pouring semi liquid mud into a wooden mold. By the time the worker has refilled his bucket the mud in the mold will have shrunk enough for the mold to be removed and filled again.When the block /brick construction is finished it is skimmed over inside, and possibly outside, with liquid Loeh, with about the same consistancy and technique as plaster, to which lime added to give extra strength and to discourage termites.
We own a piece of adjacent desert land, small dunes and palm groves, adjacent to DSB and could aquire a further piece if necessary. We need more accomodation and facilities. We would be interested in working with an adventurous architect, who would like to come to the desert for a working holiday….. with the possiblity of developing his practical and innovative ideas for a sustainable small development in the desert using local traditional methods and available local materials, but with new design concepts. Any projects would have to fit into our very limited budget and all that we could offer would be accomodation and food while at DSB, no pay or fees, just the oportunity for an ADVENTURE, to do something UNUSUAL, probably have some FUN! along the way…….. and possibly learn something of an ancient and useful skill.