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Urban Cliff

UG 2 2018-19

Undergraduate Design Studio at The Bartlett School of Architecture


Barry Wark

Maria Knutsson-Hall

This year we explored the urban cliff hypothesis which identifies that our cities are often akin to the habitat templates of cliffs. This is based upon the similarities in their physical composition where both have a lack of soil and rooting space with moisture ranges from dry to waterlogged due to their hard and impervious surfaces.  These conditions are apparent in abandoned buildings, pavements, and along railway lines where our built environment is less polished and forgotten. Rather than try to implement a superficial and manicured nature, the unit instead looked to exploit these qualities and viewed it as fertile ground for the exploration of moments of wilderness in architecture.


We travelled to Morroco’s Eastern edge with the Sahara Desert and Atlas Mountain Range visiting Fes, Chefchaouen, Marrakesh and Ait Ben-Haddou. During our excursions we cast a critical eye on traditional construction and vernacular architecture, observing and examining how these tight knit cities form out of their necessity to escape the intense heat. The unit focused on civic architecture for Marrakesh addressing projections on near future scenarios. The proposals explored issues such as mismanagement of natural resources, tourism, gentrification of the medina, education and other social services. Many projects also integrated new forms of public space for central Marrakech to facilitate the varying lifestyles of the inhabitants of ‘nouvelle ville’ and those of the old city.

In searching for urban cliff conditions in the city, it was impossible not to take influence from the famous riad courtyard houses. The calm, vegetated interiors of the buildings with their delicate ornament formed a strong contrast to the more robust and austere external conditions of the medina. Many of the student’s projects play on this internal/external duality found throughout the city as well as employ the same passive cooling systems to regulate the thermal conditions in their proposals.

Inspired by the energy of the city, it’s deeply textured walls and its overgrown courtyards, the projects endeavoured to capture these qualities in an architecture that is at once progressive and at the same time inspired by its context. Balancing moments of high intensity with serenity, the work reimagines a variety of traditional materials through avant garde design and fabrication tools to achieve this ambition.

The proposals ultimately integrate water and vegetation in novel, considered and meaningful ways towards the creation of alluring moments of wilderness and biophilia for Marrakech.

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