Combining tradition and modernity in a guesthouse in Fez

Combining tradition and modernity in a guesthouse in Fez

It has been quiet in the famous medina of Fez since the Covid-19 virus brought tourism to a virtual standstill in this UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is no reason for the Swiss Dominique Hildebrand to rest. On the contrary, he is using the respite to press ahead with the renovation of his guesthouse, Riad Taheri.

With great attention to detail and great perseverance, the Swiss entrepreneur is pursuing his mission to promote Arabic architecture and craftsmanship with the restoration of a traditional building in the old city of Fez. As traditional craftsmanship is threatened by cheap products also in the old royal city. "The riad should blossom in the richness of Arab architecture," says Hildebrand, and spares no effort to achieve this. For the reconstruction and interior finishing, only traditional local building materials are used; instead of cement, hydraulic lime with sand, bricks and cedar wood from the surrounding area. If necessary, the Swiss also undertakes an adventurous trip to the wintry local highlands to procure natural graphite for more efficient floor heating.

Inside the house, local craftsmen work with engraved plaster, mosaic and cedar wood to recreate the typical atmosphere of the riad. For the exterior façade, they follow the unwritten rules of riad architecture. In order to maintain social peace, the exterior of the house must look the same as the neighbouring houses - and thus manage with few windows.

In terms of ecology, the Riad Taheri wants to set new standards: Instead of relying on the air-conditioning systems common in the industry, it relies on natural resources and contemporary knowledge. Column poplars shade exposed parts of the façade, Moroccan cork serves as insulation for the terraces. It keeps the rooms below cool in summer and warm in winter. To offer guests a pleasant living climate in the Moroccan winter despite being "eco", underfloor heating is installed. Thanks to the reversible heat pump, this also helps to cool the rooms in summer.

The connection between modernity and tradition requires a lot of patience as well as new and very specific solutions. One has to combine the manual skills of local craftsmen with the ingenuity of Swiss partners. For example, the construction for the double glazing was developed jointly by a Swiss window maker and a carpenter's workshop in Fez in order to be able to install it in traditional windows. After a long search, a local producer was found for the fabrication of the coloured windows.  Lavabos and shower trays are made from a large block of marble, which is a more beautiful and cheaper solution than normal lavabos. However, it is not possible to do without imports altogether. For siphons and fittings, for example, there are no qualitatively satisfactory alternatives to European products on the local market.

After the Covid-19-related lock-downs, work on the construction site is progressing rapidly again. Once completed, the guesthouse will not only be an example for the combination of tradition and modernity, but also for exemplary working conditions - with paid holidays, health insurance and a sound training of the employees in the company's own service school. Above all, women in precarious life situations are to benefit from the opportunities offered at Riad-Taheri for earning a decent income.