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African Sustainable Agriculture Research Institute

A development hub between ocean and desert

Bechu & Associés

African Sustainable Agriculture Research Institute
By Caterina Testa -

A broad stretch of land lying between desert and ocean along the center-southern coast of Morocco, near the city of Laayoune, has been earmarked by two important Moroccan institutions – the OCP (Office Chérifien des Phosphates) and the Fondation Phosboucraa – as the site of the future Laayoune Technopole: an education and research hub and urban center with social and environmental infrastructure geared to kick start the economic and cultural development of southern Morocco. 

The execution of this extremely ambitious national project of a new town was put on hold, however, when a dam burst, making the area destined for development unsuitable for construction. Despite the setback, the project went ahead with the completion of the first building, the African Sustainable Agriculture Research Institute (ASARI). 

Already winners of a competition to develop a segment of the originally planned technopole, Bechu & Associés were again chosen to design both the ASARI center near the village of Foum El Oued on the coast, and an agricultural area further inland, designated as the first building block of the future urban center.

Both the new institute’s isolated desert location far from any nearby village, and its main architectural features speak to the work carried on inside: research into renewable energy, bio-saline agriculture and sand silting. Designing architecture in a desert environment is to design without any of the historical, cultural or even administrative and regulatory references that usually shape a project. Bechu & Associés’ answer to this apparent total freedom was to refer to the powerful natural elements of the location – strong winds, fierce sunshine, the sea and desert – to develop the institute’s architecture, distribution circuit and technology installed.

Architecturally, the new construction demonstrates how a building erected in a...

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