Aziza Chaouni: Architect of a New Medina of Fez

Alumni PhotoMoroccan-born Aziza Chaouni ’00, currently the Aga Khan Visiting Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, was featured on the January cover of Architect Magazine as the winner of the Progressive Architecture Award. She received the P/A Award for her research on repairing the medina of Fez, Morocco. The medina, Fez’s walled city of twisting, narrow streets and marketplaces, was established at the end of the eighth century and is regarded as one of the most preserved medieval cities in the Islamic world. The site has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

“I had a wonderful time while attending SEAS,” Aziza says. “I was part of the Society of Women Engineers Club, and I keep a very fond memory of the head of my department, Professor Rene Testa. I am very attached to my Alma Mater, and I believe that Columbia provided me with a very well rounded background.”
After graduation, Aziza went directly to the Harvard Graduate School of Design to obtain a master’s degree in architecture. She is now The Aga Khan Research and Teaching Fellow, as well as a Lecturer in Urban Planning and Design at the Harvard GSD. She is also a structural engineer and architect. With partner Jeannette Kuo, she is the co-founder of KCD, a multi-disciplinary design collaborative, which works on projects in the US, Europe, and North Africa.

Her award-winning research project, “Hybrid Urban Sutures: Filling in the Gaps in the Medina of Fez,” approaches the problem of a crumbling medina from the perspective of the people who live there.

“Even if the people retain very strong aspects of Moroccan tradition,” she says, “they still want modern facilities.” Aziza used her graduate thesis as the basis for this project, analyzing the issues that affect Middle Eastern historic districts. The medina has little green space so, to provide openness, she has proposed to return Fez’s Al-Qarawiyin University to the medina, where it originated and flourished prior to being moved to its current suburban setting. The study also includes a proposal for transportation facilities and public parks. She uses buildings, including classrooms and library stacks as flow control for people moving through the medina, helping to organize the environment.

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