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

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!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Day One: A death signifies a new beginning

Yesterday was significant in the life of Riad Romm'an, as prep work started for the demolition of the old walls to create a cleared site for the construction of the new house.  This included clearing out the years of rubbish which had accumulated in the derelict house, plus destroying any vegetation.  But there may be more to clear out than meets the eye...

In the West an empty home might appeal to squatters, but in the East empty homes attract occupants of a very different supernatural kind.  Moroccan tradition believes that Jinn live in abandoned homes and in order to remove them, various elaborate ceremonies are necessary.  These exorcisms usually involve the guardian of the property requiring some form of payment in order to appease the Jinn.   This may involve food or the purchase of a sacrificial goat from the guardian's brother, for example.  Fortunately, the abandoned Riad Romm'an has no guardians and presumably therefore, no Jinn.  However, although we knew that it would be unlikely that the Pomegranate (Romm'an in arabic) tree could be saved, we hadn't expected it to be burnt alive!!! 

The sacrificial burning of a pomegranate tree to kick start the construction project may not be an ancient Moroccan tradition to ward away Jinn, but for Riad Romm'an it is very significant as it signifies the clearing away of the old in order to make way for the new.

At least the courtyard does look bigger without the tree, so it may not have died in vain.

It looks like the workers are having fun on their first day.  I wonder if they have done a risk assessment?  There's certainly not a hardhat to be seen!

Well done guys and thank you, clearing all that rubbish must have been a nasty job.  Hopefully the Jinn are safely tied up in the bags of rubble ready to be taken far far away from Riad Romm'an!

Monday, 7 November 2011

Arabian Nights - Alf Layla wa Layla

My other half just had to have this old book she found in Young's Interesting Books, on Skirving Street, Shawlands. 

Published in 1893, its a late Victorian collection of the Arabian Nights tales taken from the much loved 'Thousand and One Nights' or Alf Layla wa Layla (in Arabic).
The nineteenth century's fascination with The Arabian Nights saw the deeds and misdeeds of Jinn or Jinnee enter Victorian drawing rooms.
With their fantastic adventures, dispensing wishes or traveling on flying carpets, these creatures slipped into Western communal folklore through the tales of Aladdin, Sinbad and others.
The tales were told by Shahrazad over a thousand and one nights to delay her execution by the vengeful King Shahriyar.
Despite their imaginative extravagance, these tales are also anchored in everyday life by their bawdiness and realism, providing a full and intimate record of the medieval Eastern World.
It's this medieval fantasy world of the Arabian Nights which wandering around the ancient medina of Marrakech magically conjours up.
As you walk through the narrow derbs and passageways, dodging donkey's and shuffling hooded figures in Jellabahs, it's easy to imagine that all these tales are entirely true.

And that behind the blank walls on either side of you, through secret doors and within riad courtyards, lies the magic and intrigue of the Jinns, Sultans and Princesses of a Thousand and One Nights!