The recently completed Guelmim Airport in southern Morocco, designed by Rabat-based architecture studio Groupe3Architects, was designed as a “piece of land art”, according to the practice’s Vincent Missemer.
“In this beautiful landscape, with the large horizon and the mountains on both sides, it was obvious that this small building couldn’t compete,” he said. “Therefore, we decided to handle it as if it were a piece of land art and conceived it as a colourful mark in the landscape. The more simple the gesture, the more efficient it would be.”
He added, “A clear, horizontal building was the best way emphasise the beauty of the horizon and the shape of the mountains. From the inside, the users [have constant access to] the views of the surrounding landscape.”
Other elements of the building’s environmental and cultural context, including light, patterns and colours, further informed the building’s design.
Missemer noted that natural light had to be present everywhere, which inspired the architects to design a glass box with a protective skin made of perforated metal panels. This double skin is held at a distance from the glass façade by a large roof overhang and helps protect the airport against sand, temperature variations and plane noise. It also helps provide shade for the outside areas.
“The light that comes through the roof is also filtered by a white fabric element,” said Missemer. “So the intention of saving energy by reducing direct sun impact brought us to design the element that would define the character of the project. The choice to use a metal façade also comes from the idea of emphasising the incredible spectrum of different light qualities, by reflecting and playing with the elements.”
The colourful façade also features geometric patterns that are integrated into the exterior metal skin. Common in Tuareg and Amazigh traditional crafts, the patterns have been rethought by the architects, who applied different scales of perception. From various distances and under changing lighting conditions, visitors see different patterns that “suggest a link to the decorative theme of local culture.”
“The colours used on the façade are directly inspired by local materials in handicraft, food, clothes, and also by the surrounding nature: from the soil to the mountains,” said Missemer. “The colours of the building had to strongly suggest a deeply integrated project. However, the strong colours also had to contrast with the blue sky in order to achieve the idea of a mark in the landscape.”
In addition to glass and metal, the architects also worked with local stone known as lakhssas, which was used for the walls and flooring, and which kept to the theme of using raw materials.
A main challenge of the project was providing the maximum amount of natural light and ventilation to avoid expensive technical equipment, while optimising the view of the surrounding landscape, which facilitates the movement and flow of the building’s users.
Missemer said, “Thinking about the function of an airport is like drawing a limit between two zones separated by a control zone. Extensibility and flexibility being the prerequisite for a sustainable project, we designed a linear box, parallel to the runways that’s made of two halls with a long span roof, which releases the ground from unnecessary construction elements, and a low filter area in between, situated under an accessible patio garden.
“The flexibility of use and modularity are essential components of the airport. Indeed, the movements of the passengers and their controls can change over time, according to national and
international safety rules as well as technology development.”