A plan to revive the river that runs through Fez, Morocco beat out nearly 5,000 competing proposals, to win top honors in the Holcim Awards for Sustainable Construction, and a cool $300,000.
The winner, Bureau E.A.S.T, is an extremely young firm, headed by Moroccan architect Aziza Chaouni and American urban planner Takako Tajima. Their proposal, however, is extremely ambitious–a process rather than a project, which could revitalize a river front over the course of many years.
The river Fez runs through the city’s center, but it’s a wreck, thanks in part to heavy pollution from local leather tanneries. So Chaouni and Tajima suggest turning the ubiquitous vats used to store tanning chemicals into a vernacular icon, by converting them into oversized planters:
But the heavy work in the multi-stage plan lies in cleaning the river itself. The designers looked to nature, designing a series of intermediate zones planted with marsh plants, which would filter rainwater and runoff, and return clean water to the ground, where it could replenish the river bed. These marsh zones would create a protective buffer for the river while doubling as a soothing promenade:
They also propose stripping away much of the illegal building in the city center, replacing it with public spaces–thus, leaving the organic growth of the area intact, but revitalizing it as well:
The Swiss-based Holcim Awards are just five years old, but they’re extraordinarily well-funded–the three-year awards cycle hands out a total of $2 million in grants, and the $300,000 that goes to Bureau E.A.S.T. should be a lifeline given the current economic climate. This year, the competition jury included Indian architect Charles Correa, American architect Enrique Norten and Saskia Sassen, a sociologist and intellectual giant, in urban planning circles. The other entries included a plan for a sustainable university campus in Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam; a town plan for a rural community in China; and a open-air market for day laborers looking for work in San Francisco.