Location: Marrakech, Morocco
An adventure searching for the perfect derelict Riad, through the constuction itself, to the end result (insha'Allah!)

Monday, 26 December 2011

Christmas deliveries at Riad Romm'an

Its was over 20 degrees in Marrakech last week and the sun was shining.  Perfect weather for house building.  Very different to the cold, rain and wind in Scotland!

Various deliveries started arriving and being stockpiled on the surrounding streets.  These include structural steel, floor beams and massive quantities of sand and cement.

Even double doors have arrived to create a temporary site entrance onto the derb.

With the ground floor in and the columns up, the project was now ready for work to start on the first floor level.  

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Rapid Progress - Week Five

It's week five already and progress has been rapid with the foundations completed and structural columns going up. 

There was some serious drama and stress this week with the need to transfer funds to the builder for purchase of materials and payment of workers.  A blockage at our Moroccan bank meant that after they had stated the transfer had been made the previous week, we discovered it hadn't and wouldn't be possible.  The builder started laying off workers and was down to a skeleton crew, then threatened to stop work completely!  The London branch of our Moroccan bank were worried about transferring money out of our account without us being there in person (in London) to verify it.  However, after a tense few days and some straight talking over the phone with the boss, they eventually relented and the funds made their way across!  Work is back on track and progress continues apace.

Many thanks to Grant Rawlings of Chic Marrakech, our project manager, for keeping us up to date with daily emails and photographs from the site.  Here's a selection of photos courtesy of Grant, from week five:
Surprisingly, potatoes are being used for the foundations of the courtyard.

Oh, no they are pebbles, not potatoes!  But why the strange metal bin set centrally into the concrete of the courtyard?  Perhaps this is actually a mould for the drain for the central fountain to enable the concreting in of the courtyard base.

Waiting for the concrete courtyard base to set.  Don't walk on it!!!

  And this hole is going to be a planter...hopefully for a new pomegranate tree?!

Ah yes, the technical bit, this picture and the one below show the cutting into the external pise walls for the columns and first floor beams. This is so that these crumbling old walls remain insitu until the building structure is complete, thereby avoiding causing instability to the neighbouring house walls.

And this is the first of the column cores which will form lovely octagonal columns for our colonnaded salon.  Next week more structural work and the first floor will being going in!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

" أحببت هذا البيت" ("I liked that house") said the Marrakech cat

As the front of the house onto the derb is finally demolished and the last remaining wall disappears, the old house is no more!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Dar Cherifa

For the past seventeen years, Abdellatif Ait Ben Abdellah has been sympathetically restoring traditional riads and dars in the medina of Marrakech.  But Dar Cherifa, became something far more personal and complex.  Some of the house dates back to the sixteenth century with some nineteenth-century additions, but the building was in a poor condtion when Abdellatif took it on.  He decided to restore any detailing that still existed, otherwise walls and floors were kept bare and whitewashed.

Restoration work has revealed the large wooden beams used to support the house, some of which have been carved so they sit in harmony with the stucco-work which surrounds them.
Restoration work on Dar Cherifa took eight months, with an emphasis on simplicity and authenticity.  Floors and walls are finished in very straightforward fashion, with a water marble pool at the centre of the courtyard, although originally the floors would have been covered in traditional zellige.  Doors were stripped of paint, while mukarnas and stucco were also restored.

The result is an authentic restoration, presenting the dar much as it would have been four centuries ago.  The house is used as a cafe and exhibition space, so the public can come and see Dar Cherifa for themselves.  Dar Cherifa, 8 Derb Chorfa Lakbir (off Rue Mouassine), Medina, Marrakech, Morocco Tel. 212 24 42 64 63 

Monday, 28 November 2011

Week 3: Earth moving and foundation building

Just a few photos of the large amount of earth moving onto the site, in order to build up the ground level and work being done to put in the new foundations.

Saturday, 26 November 2011


Some people say they don't believe in coincidences.  In other words, things happen for a reason.  It might just be that we don't appreciate what the reasons are, until later on.  Once we join up the dots.

 Grouting rigs pumping cement/ash mixture into the mines under our house in Scotland
As with many UK cities which expanded during the 1800's, our home city in Scotland was built over previously mined land.  Apparently 50% of the city's buildings have former mine workings below them and our neighbourhood is no exception.  Fortunately for us,  c.300 years since these mines were dug and the coal extracted, someone in their wisdom has now decided to fill in the mines, in our neighbourhood (thank you!).  Thus making sure that these old Victorian houses are built on a solid foundation.

Yesterday, 1682 miles away in North Africa, significant progress is being made with the building of Riad Romm'an.  A massive amount of new earth is now spread on site which will build up the new ground floor level.  In the photo above you can see the old perimeter walls being marked up for new structural columns which will be partly embedded 15cm into them.  In the photo's below you can see the chalked demarcation of the column points and their alignment across the house indicated by the stretched out blue wire.  The foundation stones will be arriving shortly for the chalked up foundation/column positions.

Yesterday it was election day in Morocco.  The first elections since the start of the Arab Spring in 2011 and the first to enable the direct democratic election of a prime minister in Morocco.  Without going into the detail of Moroccan politics, there is hope that this will start a new phase of democracy in the Kingdom.

It seems rather fitting therefore that the new foundations of Riad Romm'an are being laid at this time in Morocco's history.

"Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins, you will raise up the age old foundations, you will be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of the streets in which to dwell." (ancient scripture)

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

A sunshine break

Yesterday the men carried on clearing the site and focused on destroying what is left of the back of the house (above) and the old salon with its arched doorway.  You can still see a bit of the old wooden canopy from the well, to the left of the archway.  Grant (our designer and project manager) tells us that the mud from the walls and old debris has turned into sludge in the rain and isn't much good for creating a base for the foundations of the house.  Most of it will have to be removed.  So far no donkeys have yet been employed to remove the debris from the site, mostly just trucks and HondasDonkeys are the traditional method of construction transportation in the medina and Grant assures us that there will be plenty of opportunities for donkey action photos later on in the project.

Below are some photos from today which show the salon wall and archway completely down.

The sun came out this morning and is drying up the site.  The workmen take advantage of this to get a well earned break.  They have worked so hard and made excellent progress in such a short time.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Week One: Walls come tumbling down

Hicham (our foreman) and the guys have been very busy this first week demolishing the old riad walls, by hand.  Its dusty work!

Dust is a big problem as the old walls are so dry.  We don't want to upset the neighbourhood by covering everyone's homes in dust.  The water supply to the house is disconnected, so the men have connected a hosepipe to next door's water supply by punching a hole through the wall! (see below)

Hicham is trying to keep the dust down, by using water from the hose.

The old riad is constructed from traditional Pise or rammed earth walls.  This ancient building method does have benefits in a hot climate like Morocco.  It is simple to construct, non-combustible, thermally efficient, strong and environmentally sustainable.  However, pise walls are susceptible to water damage and as we could see from our own review of the  old riad's walls, there was a lot of damage.  We could not therefore guarantee the structural integrity of the old walls and to try to renovate the riad by keeping them would be too risky as walls could collapse at any time.  The removal of the old pise walls (which are nearly 1m think in places) will provide us with the ability to create much larger, open rooms due to modern walls being thinner.

Some of the walls will be retained for a while longer in order to provide some stability to the walls of neighbouring houses until the new structure is constructed. 


Much of the earth, rubble and stone will be compacted down on the ground and flattened in order to start raising the floor level.  The existing floor level is about 50cm below the level of the street outside (see below). 

This was because when the house was built the streets were not paved and there was no modern drainage/sewerage system in place.  When the streets were paved and pipes were put in, the work was merely done on top of the existing street level.  Demolishing the old walls and starting from scratch enables us to create a new floor level, which ties in with the level of the street (derb) outside as in the new doorway below.


The thought of walls coming tumbling down, is not usually a positive thing.  Especially if you are not in control.  Some old riads may be worth preserving because of their character and the thick walls do offer natural air conditioning against the heat in Marrakech.  But many riads have not been well maintained and become structurally unsound with no structural framework or foundations to give support.  Its not uncommon for riad walls within the medina to suddenly collapse without warning!


We chose this old riad because it was not worth saving due to the condition of its walls. It was more worthwhile to simply demolish it and build a new one in its place.  The additional benefit of completely rebuilding the riad is that it offered us the opportunity to redesign the house and overcome the spatial deficiencies of the traditional riad floor plan with its long thin impractical rooms lining each side of the central courtyard.  Traditional riad room widths often don't have the space to accommodate a double bed with enough space either side to get in and out.

Its been raining today in Marrakech and I imagine the site is now a mud bath.  Perhaps Hicham will not need the hosepipe tomorrow!