Project Info

Architects: Nikolova/Aarsø (N/A)
Location: Casablanca, 
Type: Competition – Market Square
Competition Organizer: [AC-CA]
Prize: Honorable Mention
Area: 790m2
Year: 2012


The proposal for the Casablanca Sustainable Market Square competition by Nikolova/Aarsø (N/A) brings together the economic, ecological, cultural, and social aspects of sustainability together. The architects do so with the interplay of medieval Islamic design tradition and contemporary advanced building technology. The architectural concept is developed through the use of the girih tiles as a constantly present design method that elevates its purpose from pure ornamentation to a method of developing architectural composition, spatial organization, structural elements, integration of environmental sustainable technology and strategies, to the planning of flow of people. More images and architects’ description after the break.


Until recently, the general understanding of the complex Islamic tradition of geometric star-and-polygon patterns found in ornamentation of the medieval Islamic world was believed to be designed, using merely a straightedge and a compass to generate the zigzagging lines. Recent scientific studies have found out that the generation of these patterns was far more mathematically advanced, and that it was most likely based on a decagonal and quasi-crystalline mathematical understanding, through a method named girih tiles. This advanced mathematical understanding in the medieval Islamic world is used as the foundation in developing the architectural concept, ensuring a strong link and preservation of its cultural context and tradition, and centuries later, taking part in pushing the advancement of this design further one more time.
Through consistency in the application of the girih tile design strategy, the design stands out as a deeply culturally rooted urban architectural element while being also experimental and contemporary in its aesthetic and capabilities. Large tree like structures cover almost the entire project site protecting the market square from the climate, providing optimal conditions for market activity during the day, and restaurant and cafe activity in the night. The “trees” adapt to the changes in the sun conditions from day to night and respond with levels of transparency in order to control the amount of direct sunlight hitting the market area. At night, the entire installation turns completely transparent, revealing the wooden structural elements, the dynamic pattern of the BIPV (Building Integrated Photovoltaics) and the stars in the night sky to the people, dining and socializing underneath its span. This constant change in appearance serves to remind citizens of the environmental changes that architecture and society must work with. Its experimental aesthetic will draw attention to the neighborhood and be part of defining the future identity of the area.

Several integrated strategies are used to achieve optimal conditions for a contemporary and urban market square as well as success in its environmentally sustainability ambitions. The “tree” installations are a sandwiched construction consisting of an inner layer of Smart-glass covering a high performing wooden structural skeleton, finished with an “exterior” waterproofed glass layer with BIPV. The BIPV provides the electricity needed to operate the Smart-glass layers during the day and free cell phone recharging stations. It stores enough electricity to light the entire market square at night by LEDs integrated in the wooden skeleton. The Smart-glass layer changes its level of opacity depending on the intensity of the sunlight during the day. The stronger the sunlight, the more opaque it gets. This controls the temperature underneath the trees during daytime and lets through enough diffuse light to eliminate the use of artificial light. At night and on cloudy days, the installation is completely transparent.
The shapes of the “tree” canopies, with thick stems centrally located in each “tree”, are designed as huge rain water collectors. Their branching areas collect rainwater almost equal to the entire site area and guide it down through their stems into underground water storage tanks. The collected water is used to fill up the integrated water basins in the market pavement and also for the daily cleaning of the market stalls. Water vaporization from the water basins pre-cools the air flow before it flows under the canopies, and works in collaboration with the smart-glass layer to control the temperature during hot days. Hot polluted air exhausts trough the gaps in the overlaying “tree crowns”.

Hopefully, by providing the setting for a continuous interaction of people through trade and social events, the market square can contribute to the future economical, social, environmental and cultural sustainable development of the area.