In El Jadida, a port city on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, just 100km south of Casablanca, sits the Wall of Knowledge School, designed by Moroccan architects Tarik Zoubdi and Mounir Benchekroun.
Spanning 8,960m2, the project comprises a lobby, auditorium, 18 classrooms (many of which cater to science and technology education), as well as a prayer room and various sports facilities.
“We won the architectural competition, organised by the Office Cherifien des Phosphates for the construction of the middle school, in 2015,” said Zoubdi. “We respected the programme and the surfaces of the project by using a lot of precision, but what pleased the jury the most was our intelligent management of the surface of the plot. We were the only ones to propose a compact project that allowed free space for the future construction of a high school.”
The irregular shape of the site and its orientation toward the sun suggests a spatial distribution of the project in three main areas: the central area, which contains a building dedicated to teaching and is strategically positioned to serve as a landmark for the neighbourhood; the northern area, which houses the sports facilities; and the southern area, currently kept vacant for the school’s future expansion.
According to Zoubdi, the compactness of the project makes it possible to minimise walking distances across the school’s premises. And because the building is set back on its site, with the exterior consisting of two shells that provide shaded areas for students to socialise without being on the main roadway that passes by the building, the school contains a ‘security perimeter’.
The facade features a very resistant limestone called ‘Taza stone’, which is produced in Morocco and is often used in local building construction. A tribute to the Portuguese heritage of the city, the facade also contains a metallic mashrabiya skin adorned with a ‘universal alphabet’ to symbolise tolerance.
“The project is inspired by the Portuguese fortification of the Mazagan, which is now part of the same city. This fortress was built as a colony on the Atlantic coast in the early 16th century and is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site,” said Zoubdi.
“The project is introverted,” he added. “Its external relationship is limited to protect the interior from noise and prying eyes. It takes the same functional scheme of the old traditional Moroccan schools called ‘medresa’.”
In addition to the limestone and metal used for the facade, the project also applies concrete, wooden acoustic panels, resin flooring, flexible PBC, wood and plaster.
The central lobby of the building allows for quick access to all of the school’s major locations. Connecting paths include passageways and footbridges, which form an architectural promenade around the courtyard, like patios.
Inspired by the alleys of the traditional medina, two covered walkways further enable the continuity of a large mineral carpet that connects the multipurpose sports hall to the existing football field, promoting circulation.
“The architecture of the building is different from the surrounding housing because of its scale, materials and monumental character, making it an urban landmark in the area,” said Zoubdi. “Also, the building opens to its surroundings by the esplanade of the main entrance, which serves as a social space between neigbours.”
The Wall of Knowledge School applies a number of bioclimatic architectural solutions. The north-south orientation of the classrooms allow for effective shading on the south facade, while the classrooms follow a cross-ventilation system. The mashrabiya on the main facade protects the interior from the western sun and solar thermal panels supply gym showers and sanitary facilities with hot water.
Furthermore, all lights throughout the building are LED and the flooring of the garden in the courtyard is permeable, which allows for the use of recycled rainwater.
Across the interior walls, too, are supportive and motivational quotes to invite students and teaching staff to maintain open minds and “self-transendence”, added Zoubdi.
Other team members who worked on the design of the building included Zahra Belquas, Lourdes D’Orey, Abderrahim Tarabi, Selma Tourbi, Anas Diab, Aicha Alaoui Ismaili, Smail Ouchakour and Mehdi Zoubdi.