Salima Naji has been recognized by the Aga Khan Development Network for her efforts to revive a series of earth buildings in the lesser Atlas Mountains, Morocco.Working with the Ministry of Interior, Naji hired and trained local unskilled workers to restore a network of fortified citadels and granaries in southern Morocco that are both historically and spiritually important to the local population. She then added a few extra touches so that these once abandoned sites function once again as thriving civic centers that celebrate Berber culture.
The Berbers were once renowned for their architecture. Having thrived in harsh desert conditions, they knew all about water management, passive solar design, and insulated earth construction.
But modern interventions and globalization have rendered their culture somewhat obsolete and Salima Naji sought to reverse that unfortunate trend.
Not only did she restore two important sites at Agadir of Amtoudi, but she also oversaw the rehabilitation of Qsar Assa and rescued sections of Agadir Ouzrou.
The beautiful stone and earth buildings won’t necessarily resume their former function as warehouses for grain. Instead, they have been revived to honor their former cultural and spiritual significance, and to provide a space for Berbers to reawaken their rich and colorful heritage.
Village squares, public walkways and outdoor theaters have been added to the sites where poetry contents, feasts, and song and dance festivals are held, creating a whole new sense of pride.
Naji is one of 20 nominees for the 2013 Aga Khan Award for Architecture – a prestigious prize awarded every three years that comes with some serious financial rewards.
While other North African and Middle Eastern countries have watched important historical sites destroyed in the turbulent aftermath of the Arab Spring, Morocco has undertaken a host of preservation projects – including the restoration of synagogues throughout the nation mandated by the King.