Historic preservation holds untapped potential for international aid and community development in developing nations where societies are struggling to find a balance between their traditional cultural identity and the unavoidable demand to become a viable force in the modern and globalizing world. Too often, efforts at community development implement modern architectural styles or quick and cheap concrete ‘bunker’ architecture to house their projects. These aesthetics are new and often uncomfortable for the locals and can lead to abandoned efforts. Alternatively, a familiar and historical aesthetic, when available, has the ability to transition the culture in a safe, comfortable, and traditional environment; incorporating its rich history into its expanding future.
In 2007, ACF started the Igherm Restoration Project. The project’s goal is to preserve the region’s unique and threatened historic architecture while adapting the uses of these buildings to meet modern development needs. Despite Zawiya Ahansal’s remote location, it has one of the highest concentrations of historic architecture in Morocco; with eight igherms (traditional fortified granaries and saints’ houses) dating to between two and five hundred years. All of the region’s historic structures are built with traditional rammed earth, decorative stacked stone, and brick techniques.
This project not only preserves the region’s historic monuments but also provides locals with experience and training to continue working with traditional construction and restoration methods. All restoration work is done to the standard of the Moroccan Ministry of Culture and utilizes original tools, techniques, and materials. ACF works with locals to find a viable use for the newly restored buildings and it is ACF’s goal to train the local association Amezray SMNID in the management of the new development projects with the ultimate goal of turning complete management of these projects over to the locals within a five to ten year time frame.
The first restoration in the village of Amezray was completed in 2010 and will become the IQRA Library and Community Center. This project is providing locals with their first ever access to books, magazines, newspapers and computers, as well as trainings to combat the region’s high illiteracy rates.
With financial support from and partnership with the Moroccan Ministry of Culture, ACF has completed a second restoration in the village of Aguddim. This project is restored a four hundred year old saint’s house. Locals are currently deciding an appropriate and viable use for the restored building. Potential uses are a preschool, birthing center, or guesthouse.
ACF is now preparing for the restoration of two more igherms starting in 2013.
The Igherm Restoration Project is challenging the traditional attitude regarding aid and development efforts that faster and cheaper results are better and is providing evidence that the added time and financial resources required to incorporate historic preservation will result in an increase in sustainable outcomes.