Prior to independence, Morocco’s domestic tourism consisted of moussems (religious festivals) and thermalism. The oasis of Sidi Harazem (located fifteen kilometers from the city of Fez) represented a convergence of the two typologies; the mausoleum of Sidi (Saint) Harazem located among ancient thermal springs renowned by Moroccans for their healing properties. The grounds of the Sidi Harazem thermal spring are believed to have Roman origins. In the 8th century a shrine was erected for the Sufi saint Sidi Harazem, and pilgrimages to the site became commonplace. Due to the site’s popularity, around 1937, three outdoor basins were built near an existing one.

In 1959, four years after Morocco gained its independence from the French, the young independent state decided to capitalize on Sidi Harazem’s existing popularity. The site was selected to house Morocco’s first large public leisure facility: a state-of-the-art thermal bath complex. The Caisse des Depots et De Gestion (CDG - Moroccan state-pension fund) commissioned architect Jean-François Zevaco to ‘modernize’ the existing thermal bath site by providing modern touristic infrastructure that would contribute to Morocco’s standing as a world-class destination.

Jean-François Zevaco was born to a French-Corsican family in Casablanca. His university education in Paris at the National School of Fine Arts (1937) coincided with the Second World War. After the end of the war he returned to Casablanca where he started his practice, largely designing private villas and testing his brand of situated Modernism. Prior to his work at Sidi Harazem, Zevaco designed the Tit-Mellil Airport with Dominique Basciano and a series of brutalist schools in Casablanca that introduced a novel architectural language to the city. However, his development of Sidi Harazem represents a major experiment and progression in his design technique and ethos–a shift that would shape the remaining years of his career.

Sprawling over an oasis valley of fourteen hectares, the completed Sidi Harazem complex is a brutalist gem that seamlessly integrates water, nature and concrete. Zevaco carefully choreographed the complex’s programs, comprising an entrance plaza, two pools, a hotel, seventy-six bungalows, two markets, gardens and ponds. Sidi Harazem’s architecture integrated landscape, public spaces, buildings, and a wide array of waterworks. The Complex opened to the public in 1969, and was entirely executed by 1975.

Although the Sidi Harazem Thermal Bath Complex is perceived as a project of independence and emancipation, it highlights the contradictions inherent to the Modernist movement. Zevaco’s complex was developed using a tabula rasa approach. In 1957, CDG purchased the land immediately south of the spring and the site’s original villagers were displaced to a nearby hilltop, now known as the town of ‘Skhinate’. Locals continue to have mixed feelings towards the complex–some celebrate the economic opportunity it brought to the area and see the latent potential of the area, while others are nostalgic for their ties to the land.

Since the mid-80s, several factors have led to the site’s decay; (1) thermal tourism was supplanted by beach tourism, (2) buildings closed down and experienced weathering, (3) a botched rehabilitation effort in 2000 impacted the site’s architectural integrity, and (4) informal markets emerged due to a lack of adequate facilities.

With the support of the Getty Conservation Institute’s ‘Keeping it Modern’ program, Aziza Chaouni Projects developed a Conservation Management Plan, adaptive reuse strategy, and cultural activations for Sidi Harazem Thermal Bath Complex. Our research and practice seeks to balance the celebration of Zevaco’s mastery, the prominence of Sidi Harazem as an important Modern site in Africa, and the promotion of open dialogues with community stakeholders which explore the legacies of their land and traditions.

In 2017, Sidi Harazem received the Keeping it Modern Grant, under which a Conservation Management Plan (CMP)  was developed. Despite commitments to implement the CMP, the majority site owner (CDG) is now considering selling the site due to decreased tourism revenues during COVID-19.

Today, portions of the site owned by the state pension-fund have been closed to the public, citing “safety concerns”, and the hotel is barely in use. Locals continue to informally use the portions of the site owned by the rural commune (public) to access water sources for drinking and washing, as well as for public markets - although the market infrastructure lacks services. The local community has suffered from this stagnation, as they rely on seasonal tourism revenues. Typically, the nearby village of Skhinate, where locals were moved when construction of the complex started, accommodates homestays during the summer. Many of its villagers are vendors at the Modern complex and rely on revenues from the informal markets on site. In August 2020, the informal market at Sidi Harazem burnt down due to an electrical fire. Aziza Chaouni Projects worked with local vendors to design temporary market pavilions so as not to disrupt their livelihoods.

Despite the political gridlock impacting the site, ACP has continued to advocate for its conservation in collaboration with the local community. We are awaiting the slow implementation of the Conservation Management Plan, which was co-developed with the community and Sidi Harazem’s operators.