Why did you make Fez the focus of your research?
I was born in Fez and spent 18 years of my life there. I didn't live inside the medina, but we would always go there to shop. It's still very active–not this nice little museum for tourists. Now, unfortunately, it's falling down, and the question is, what do you build?
What don't you like about most recent construction in the medina?
Tourists have a distorted idea of what Morocco is, so now you see One Thousand and One Nights–type architecture, this imagined, orientalist style, or exact replicas of traditional courtyard houses. There's also a vernacular style, which is more of a hybrid of what people thought was Moroccan–green tiles and arches–mixed with modern typologies. It's a compromise between traditional and modern, and isn't very successful.
How is your approach different?
My approach is, you build something for the population that lives there, not the people who are just visiting. It's a very socially conscious approach. In the medina, even if people retain very strong aspects of Moroccan tradition, they still want modern facilities.
Why do you want to bring Al-Qarawiyin University back?
Fez was built around the university, which is [one of] the oldest in the world. After independence [from France, in 1956], it was closed and moved outside of the city to an Americanized campus. It deprived people of a huge facility and lots of public space. The population saw it as somebody stole it from them. So for me, it was very natural that it should be brought back.
Your research was self-initiated. What has been the response from officials in Fez?
They had a hard time understanding what I was doing. They didn't see that you can build something modern that answers all the [UNESCO World Heritage site] restrictions. People thought in the beginning this was too radical for the medina: How can you depart from the courtyard houses?
Do you think they'll adopt your proposals?
Maybe in a few years, 10 years ... it will take time. But I opened the discussion on a subject that was taboo.