Surrounded by the medina’s maze of narrow alleys, the wailing of the muezzins and the smell of lamb stew pots, Bartolomé Gómez’s proposal for a new cultural haven emerges from a tightly packed urban fabric and aims to gain a foothold in the most complete and complex medieval city of the Arab world.
As cultural programmes are currently scattered all around the city, the Central Library aspires to become a hub for education as well as a rich place of exchange for all citizens. Calling upon the principles of Jaime Lerne’s Urban Acupuncture, the strategy consists in having a relatively small-scale intervention act as a catalyst for a much wider transformative impact, both on the urban and social realms. The proposal not only accommodates a library, workshop areas and exhibition rooms, but also creates new public spaces and channels encounters among the community.
As the project’s evocative name suggests, A Shadow In Fez paradoxically takes on its heavier role of cultural catalyst by assuming an almost fleeting presence. Indeed, if the project deliberately stands out from the surroundings because of its proportions, its tectonic elements, material treatment and orchestration of effects harmonise completely with the urban fabric it sits in.
Reflections are carefully orchestrated and the light is softly filtered into the building, sheltering the interior from the harsh climate and direct sunlight. Being a direct product of its context’s culture and geography, the educational institution exploits locally sourced stones to construct thick Cyclopean concrete walls. These architectural elements not only make for a sustainable proposition, but also become inhabitable spaces in themselves containing stairs, bathrooms and vegetation as well as triggering encounters among the users.
Reminiscent of Aldo van Eyck’s twin phenomena and in-between places, Gomez’s proposal plays with contrasts: heavy/light, individual/collective, up/down, narrow/vast, concealed/exposed. The Central Library provides the common ground where conflicting polarities interact, becoming again twin phenomena and reconciling the idea of unity with that of diversity.
A serious engagement with context and situation is balanced with a brave and bold vision of architecture’s potential for placemaking, in this ambitious and accomplished project. From the urban scale to tectonic resolution and construction detail, the proposed building is well researched and tested. It also made good use of the limited space allowed in the competition, packing in well-edited material to demonstrate the scope of its accomplishment, but stopping short of overwhelming the viewer.