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Morocco – Chapter 1: Casablanca, Hassan II Mosque

Around this time last year, I had just returned from Morocco, from a design student trip with Torrens University. I had been excited to see it, but little did I imagine how much I would fall in love with it. For the last few months, I collaborated with design lecturers from Torrens University, Nina Starkey and Michele Wake, to produce a book inspired by travels there. The book has just arrived, hot-off-the-presses here in Brisbane! Uncovering Morocco: Materials and Finishes, is a self funded project of love by Nina and Michele. Head over to www.studiohillenberg.com/morocco to find the book. It is also stocked in GOMA bookstore and selected other bookstores.

In the meantime, I felt this was a fortuitous time to kick start my own blog, talking about travel, design, art and maybe some cooking thrown in. The adventure begins with Morocco.

 

Morocco Deconstructed: Casablanca, Hassan II Mosque


What do you think of when you picture Morocco in your head? Sand and camels, spices and rugs? Yes, they do have that, but it is so much more than most people realise. Morocco is a mélange of cultures, rich in history, tradition, mysticism, and religion. The native Berber tribes, the Spanish, the French, the Jewish, and many more cultures have inhabited Morocco and left its unique mark on the people and the landscape. Our trip took us from metropolitan Casablanca to Chefchaouen in the north, then down to Marrakesh in the red centre, sticking close to the coast as we travelled. The landscape along the way is not dissimilar to Australia in many ways.

I cannot possibly tell you all the tales of our travels in one blog post. We could not even manage to fit all our memories into a 200-page book! So here is just a whirlwind introduction to Morocco - with more to come.


Please go check out the book Uncovering Morocco: Materials and Finishes if you're interested and want to read more. www.studiohillenberg.com/moroco

Casablanca - the oceanside city we all know from the classic movie of the same name. Our first stop was the Hassan II Mosque. Let me set the scene first. More than 24 hours after we left Australia, we arrived in Casablanca. We were all tired and cranky, and the last thing we felt like doing was sightseeing. Nevertheless, the moment we arrived at Hassan II, a sense of awe and grandeur infused every single one of us. You could practically see the energy buzzing in the air. It was reinvigorating.

Designed by French architect Michel Pinseau, the mosque took six years to build and was completed in 1993. Hassan II, with its 210m tall minaret, is a monumental jutting out over the Atlantic ocean. All elements of the building has been carefully planed, with religious meaning and significance behind every last geometric tile pattern (zellige) and stucco calligraphy. More than the Islamic religious symbolism, the orientation towards Mecca, its architecture is also heavy with numerical significance. Significant numbers are repeated across many features within the building. This reminds me vividly of the ancient Chinese temples of my childhood. These temples are built with four corners facing the four compass directions, and were also intrinsically influenced by numerology and symbology (for instance, the Temple of Heaven, in Beijing, China).

I'm not a religious person per se, considering myself more spiritual than religious. But I have visited countless churches and cathedrals across western Europe, and the opulent atmosphere of Hassan II is solemn, grand, and near impossible to behold. It puts some of even the most lavish cathedrals to shame.


Take a look below if you don’t believe me.


Hassan II Mosque – a grand monument of beige and green beautifully complimented by the natural backdrop of blue ocean and sky. The immense scale and perfect symmetry is what strikes you most at first glance.


Inside, the perfect balance of symmetry and geometry can be seen everywhere, particularly in the ablution chambers below, where worshippers go to wash their hands and feet in a ritual as old as time.


The iconic horseshoe shape of the Moroccan archway is important – it also symbolises protection. The zellige tile patterns found on the fountains, and covering the walls follow a geometric patters with significant numbers being repeated, e.g. you see many eight-pointed stars.


At first, I loved this because it was such a intricate and unique tile pattern. But, after spending more time in Morocco – I realised this shape with five points was a stylised version of the hamsa, or Hand of Fatima, a Moroccan symbol of protection that you will find adorning almost every doorway. Next time you’re looking for something ‘Moroccan’ to style your interior, instead of the typical arabesque patterns that you’ll find in countless Moroccan themed interior style – maybe try something more like this?


One of the many beautiful marble used in the mosque are these green marble columns. The unique dark-purple vein inside the green marble is what interested me, and we see that same green and dark red/purple colour repeated on the walls in the geometric tile patterns. This reinforces the layers of colour and texture throughout the space. What a good reminder when you’re styling any interior.


There are so many variations of geometric shapes and patterns adorning the immense metal doors, some of which are so intricate and complex I can’t even begin to fathom where one pattern starts and the other ends. But this one is a simple four point lattice pattern that reminded me a lot of the Chinese geometric patterns I’d see adorning traditional Chinese windows and doorways as well – resembling old Chinese coins. It stuck with me during the trip – and reminded me how architecture is something that can cross-over cultural boundaries and barriers. There are many instances where people in different lands and cultures have arrived at similar themes in their architecture, designs and artworks.


There is not enough time to share everything with you, so here is a small selection of images to inspire you.


Bonus, did you know the roof opens?



I hope this gives you some inspirations for your next project!


Stay tuned for more!

À bientôt!

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PS: Outtakes: this is how not to style your Moroccan themed interior (from a rather … unique hotel we stayed at in Casablanca)




All photographs and sketches © 2020 Sue Chen

References:

Starkey, N., Wake, M. (2020) Uncovering Morocco: Materials and Finishes. Kingswood Print. Brisbane.

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