Building the Moroccan Court

Building the Moroccan Court


(traditional Moroccan music
playing) In 2011, the Metropolitan Museum
of Art opened new galleries for its Department
of Islamic Art. As a curator, I knew our
visitors would experience extraordinary works of art created over the last
1,400 years. But we also wanted to give
our visitors an experience of space and architecture and to show something
of the living traditions in the Islamic world. The result is the
Patti Cadby Birch Court, a Moroccan court built inside
the Metropolitan Museum over several months in 2011. It took a team of experts–
from curators and historians, to designers and craftsmen,
of course– to make the Moroccan Court, using traditional methods that
go back to the 15th century. Our work began
with a journey to Fez. The world has changed so much, and traditional crafts are
dying out very, very fast. But to the credit
of the Moroccan government, they’ve taken this so seriously
over the years that they’ve managed
to preserve, in Fez and other centers,
the traditional methods. Being so close to the moment
of creation is something that has an incredible power and is something that profoundly
moves you as a curator. In Fez there were
40,000 craftsmen. We met with many, many guilds,
many, many groups, and we did find potential
to work with a number
of different people. However, when we met
the Naji Family craftsmen, run by four brothers
and their father, and then they have several
workshops in Fez itself, at one point Adil picked up
Mohammed’s hand. He said, “Look, this is
my brother’s hand.” And we looked at that hand, and
it was the hand of a craftsman. It was rough and callused,
and it had plaster all over it. He’d been chipping away
since the age of 14. It was one of those moments
when you just felt this was the right partner
for you. ADIL NAJI: We are seventh
generation in this business, but for me and for my family, it
is unlike any other project that we have ever undertaken, because this will serve
as reference for scholars to learn more
about Islamic architecture. NADIA ERZINI: I was employed
as an art historian consultant to the project. I suggested having
a Medieval style courtyard. I have a very personal reaction
to cut-tile mosaic, or zillij. Morocco, North Africa,
is burning hot for so many months of the year. Visually, it’s such a comfort
to see blues and greens and cool colors evoking nature
and gardens and water. Perhaps it’s because I grew up
in a courtyard house with traditional decoration,
I can remember, you know, walking barefoot on tiles. In the Islamic city context,
there is no façade. Houses are all stuck together,
the streets are very narrow. The courtyard is the focus. It’s in fact the façade,
but it’s on the inside, and it’s very private,
unless you’ve got access to it. The Moroccan inspiration
for the courtyard is the madrasas of Fez, and
they are perhaps the best symbol of the intellectual
and cultural life of the Medieval Western
Islamic world. The madrasa was a resident
for a student who formed the backbone of the education
and political life, which will then serve to
maintain the urban civilization as they know it. ACHVA BENZINBERG STEIN:
As a designer and a landscape architect,
I deal with outdoor space. When Avina came to me, she said,
“Do you think we can do a nice Moroccan courtyard?” And I said, “By all means.” Most people who go to Morocco and look at
the Moroccan architecture, they look at the court
in terms of objects– the beautiful tile,
the beautiful wall. But they don’t look and see
the space, the outdoor space, and the meaning of the void
and the mass. You see how elaborate it is,
but how simple it is. HAIDAR: Traditional Moroccan
architecture in general consists of a pretty formulaic
set of materials that go from floor to ceiling. There’s usually a marble basin,
tiles surround on the floor, that extends into stone,
and then you reach the walls, and the walls have
a detailed level of tile work, followed by elaborate
carved stucco work. And then it goes
and meets woodwork, and after the wooden ceiling,
it culminates in a set of green roof tiles. What precise patterns
and designs and colors do we put into this formula,
and how do we adapt the scale of these courts that usually
go on for three stories into our very intimate setting without losing the spirit
of the court? ERZINI: What we’ve done
is combine elements from the madrasas
and houses of Fez and, from Islamic Spain,
houses and palaces of Granada. At that period, you can look
at western Islamic world as one cultural unit
in craftsmen which move around
between cities. So we looked at a tile panel
from the Alhambra, which was exhibited
at the Met in 1992. It’s very bold. HAIDAR: If we were to adapt
the scale exactly, we would end up with very big
stars all over our walls. And we found that in general,
the scale in Moroccan monuments is much smaller
than the Alhambra patterns. So the challenge was:
how were we going to reduce the width of that
wide strapwork to make it suitable for our scale? The incredible thing we learned
is that if you add a millimeter of width
to your wide strapwork, your stars become huge. If you take a millimeter away,
they become small. It’s incredible how much effect
the width of the strapwork has on the overall pattern. In the end, we were all
in Morocco, in the workshop, trying desperately
to make this work out. The craftsmen themselves
wanted to make it smaller. I was holding out
for as much white as possible, and not able to do it
on the computer we tried painting it
on the wall, we tried printing it out
in various stages. In the end, Achva Stein,
our designer, took scissors and cut pieces of starred
strapwork out and physically created a pattern
to shown us how the scale could be adapted. It was a very Medieval solution
in the end, and it was a very, very exciting
moment of the whole thing. STEIN: You had to see
the totality– the shape, the form, and the location. When you look at the wall,
you see there are 70 different distinct pieces like a puzzle fitting into each
other to create the design. (music) NAJI: We were working
in Morocco for almost six months in which we fabricated all
the loose tiles for the zillij. The wood was carved in Morocco
out of cedar from the Atlas Mountains of Fez. We used some of the best
wood carvers in the city, and it was very difficult in terms of the intricacy
of the pattern. HAIDAR: We were convinced
that the only way we would do this project was if the
craftsmen actually came here. (cars honking) We wanted a direct relationship
between the craftsmen and the walls of
our Metropolitan Museum. NAJI:
For us, we were transported back to the year 1300. It was clear to my team that
we had to use only the elements and the tools that have been
used for centuries. For instance, the plaster
on the walls, they were smoothing it
with their hand. When I look at this court,
I see hands everywhere. It’s everything is touched
by hands. HAIDAR: The Moroccan Court
exists in many contexts in Morocco: in a domestic
setting, in a religious setting, and in a public setting as well. The inspiration came from all of these different
types of courts coming together. Without making
historical reproduction, we wanted to be
historically authentic. We had to do things
very close to the original way. So we had to scale things down
very precisely so that your eye wouldn’t feel that things
were wrong. Your has to have a sense
of complete harmony when you look at these elements. The government of Morocco
for our project released a special kind of stucco, which
they don’t normally export. It’s got a wonderful
reddish hue. And you see this reddish color
in Marrakesh, particularly. Through the process of carving,
they have to keep it moist, and it retains a soft
and malleable quality for months afterwards. In fact, it’s very fragile
until it completely hardens. What’s incredible is that
if you make a mistake or you want to change something,
you can just slap some more plaster on
and shape it and carve it. It’s got a kind of soft quality,
and then at the same time, it hardens just enough
so that when you need to get your chisel in there and make it
into definite shapes, you can do that as well. Then they have a series
of tools, some of them as fine practically
as toothpicks. And with these tools,
they apply themselves to carving the surface of the
stucco, based on stencil designs that they have applied. There is a movement to the
whole nature of the carving. They’re able to create effects
of leaves going over vines, under other leaves. They are extremely sculptural. It’s an arabesque almost
in three dimensions. NAJI: Living in New York
for them was a challenge. I took them on a tour
of the museum. And I took them to places to see
what has been done before. The routine for six months was
Monday to Saturday, and Friday we work
until 3:00 p.m., and then they go sightseeing. # You Got To Be Startin’
Somethin’ # MAN:
Everybody say, “All right.” ALL: All right. MAN: Say, “Oh, yeah.” ALL: Oh, yeah! HAIDAR: It’s easy to recreate
Medieval designs, but difficult to get them
in proportion with the rest of the space and
relative to the other elements. We had to act with
extremely high patience. We had to do things very close
to the original way. In the old days,
creation of these wall patterns would have been done
with a lime-based mortar, then done directly on the wall. But it burns through the skin
and causes horrible injuries. So what they generally do now is create intricate mosaic tile
pattern on the floor, upside down, basically. The surface of these shapes is
colored, smooth, and brilliant, but the reverse of these shapes
has to be cut into a particular beveled style
so that they interlock well with each other. And then they pour into
a concrete base mortar, which allows it
to get completely solid. NAJI: We had to get
some variation of colors– for instance,
three shades of blue, there are two shades of green. So it has the characteristic
of an ancient antique panel. HAIDAR: We matched the colors
right back to the authentic palette
of the 14th and 15th centuries. ERZINI: There seemed to be
a standard type of ceiling that was used for
the madrasa courtyards of Fez. We thought that worked
because it was so three-dimensional
and exciting, has those projecting corbels
to really add a bit of life to the surface. Although of course we’ve had
to miniaturize the whole thing because we don’t have
much space. STEIN: It’s a completely
different scale. We needed to make the room
in the proportion that will be adaptable to human scale, yet hint at the grand
Moroccan Andalusian style. NAJI: When the New York Times
wrote about us, they were carrying the newspaper
with them every single day. They became celebrities, and definitely was giving them
this fuel to go above and beyond their capabilities. HAIDAR: At certain points
they actually departed from the design because they
were so inspired to do better. Mohammed just said, “I’m going
to leave the design aside “and I want to do something
for you “that I’ve never done before. “That’s going to be
freehand drawing, based on a historical
precedent.” They have to have mastery
over the symmetry and the geometry
of these patterns, and it’s the interlapping,
interlocking of these simple forms that leads
to the complexity of the surface decoration
that you see. Very mesmerizing, actually. No matter how stylized it is,
there is an underlying logic that does not break down. That’s an important part
of the heritage that they are keeping alive. Most craftsmen all over the
Muslim world tend to be Sufis. Much of the work that they do reflects a kind of
devotional spirit. For example,
the craftsmen actually stylized the veining of the leaves
to reflect the name of God. “Allah” in Arabic script
is written essentially in a series of vertical strokes,
terminating in a rounded form. Very understated element
in the decoration, but if you want to see it,
it’s there. To acknowledge that these spaces
and this work has a spiritual dimension to it
only enhances it, and makes us understand
how human beings are capable of doing things that require
such dedication. ERZINI: I think it’s wonderful
that people can visit a recreation of a Medieval
Moroccan courtyard without having to go there. It is a real privilege for us
as Moroccans. NAJI: This place is
a constant reminder of harmony between two different cultures. STEIN: The strength of the
Moroccan design is to understand the beauty of the simplicity
of the Old World. HAIDAR: The Moroccan Court will
join a family of great spaces in the Metropolitan Museum, spaces that offer an area
for contemplation, that transport the visitor to a completely different
part of the world. And to do this
at the highest possible level with the greatest sensitivity
to the surroundings and the masterpieces
of the collection, it’s an historian’s dream, a chance to actually be part
of the act of creating something wonderful.

45 thoughts on “Building the Moroccan Court

  1. Years ago, I took a guided tour with one of the Met's volunteer docents who took us through the arts of the Islamic world. At the end, a young couple thanked him for showing such respect for their history and culture. It was very moving and I still think of their gracious acknowledgement of his time and effort. Thank you – wonderful video.

  2. When people say Islam is a religion of peace what they mean really.
    MashAllah what an amazing west islamic proud Rich heritage culture .
    Breath taking Art of work .

  3. ุชูุถู„ูˆุง ุจุฒูŠุงุฑุฉ ู…ูˆู‚ุนูŠ ุงู„ุงู„ูƒุชุฑูˆู†ูŠุŒ ุฃู†ุง ุฃุตู†ุน ู„ูˆุญุงุช ูู†ูŠุฉ ู…ู† ุงู„ุฒู„ูŠุฌ ุงู„ุชู‚ู„ูŠุฏูŠ ุงู„ู…ุบุฑุจูŠ
    Visit my website, I make paintings of traditional moroccan tiles(zellige)
    https://zelligedarif.blogspot.com

  4. Moroccans are a real hard workers , yeah they arr poor but such a creative smart talanted peaceful thankful smily kind people

  5. Inner courtyard is totally Asian culture and architect
    Alkhwarzam ( Algorithmen in Latin ) and today Bukhara , samarkan, Kashgar ( West china ) were the most scienctific and architectual countries, from China there we muslims brought and learned many things, today arabic caligrapy is taken from chinese art, i traveled a lot around the globe ( many times to morocco and al andalus ) and i am still lerning other cultures and their roots, what i see in this video or i saw personaly, these all thing you can find in bukhara, west china, Bilad al sind ( Makli graveyard , even on sand stones and not on simple gipsum ) and some are in Malaysia. Al andalus was destination of many muslims from the world, these all monuments in andalus are older then any moroccans architect, this was brought to north africa by muslims of andalus when they left andalus,and went to north africa, all architect is in andalus older then morocan architect. if it was built by moroccan then first it should be built in morocco but is not, you can find 1000 of morocans who have asian faces, did you ever ask your self why? because these were the asian muslims who sattled in north africa after christian took over andalus. and there are still many people living in morocco with family name Bukharis.

  6. If I ever renovate. Or build a home, that plaster is going up there. Then when finished I'll drop acid and everything will turn to life.

  7. ูู†ุงู†ูˆู† ูˆู…ุจุฏุนูˆู†!!ุงู„ูู† ุงู„ู…ุบุฑุจูŠ ูˆู‡ุฐุง ุงู„ู†ู…ุท ุจุงู„ุฎุตูˆุต ุงุตุจุญ ู…ุทู„ูˆุจุง ููŠ ุงู…ุฑูŠูƒุง ูˆุงูˆุฑุจุงู…ู„ู„ุฅุดุงุฑุฉ ุงุตุจุญ ุงู„ุนุงู…ู„ ููŠ ุงู„ูู† ุงู„ุชู‚ู„ูŠุฏูŠ ุงู„ู…ุบุฑุจูŠ..ู…ุคู‡ู„ุง ุนู„ู…ูŠุง..ูˆู‡ู†ุงูƒ ู…ุนุงู‡ุฏ ู…ุนุฑูˆูู‡ ููŠ ุงู„ู…ุบุฑุจ..ุชุณุชู‚ุทุจ ุงุตุญุงุจ ุจูƒุงู„ูˆุฑูŠุง+2 ูˆุงูƒุซุฑ..ุฅุถุงูุฉ ู„ู…ู†ุญู‡ ุญูƒูˆู…ูŠู‡ ุชุตู„ ุงู„ู‰ 3000ุฏุฑู‡ู… ุดู‡ุฑูŠุง..ูˆุงู„ุดูƒุฑ ุงู„ุฌุฒูŠู„ ู„ุจุนุถ ุงู„ู…ู‚ุงูˆู„ุงุช ุงู„ุนุงุฆู„ูŠุฉ ุงู„ุนุฑูŠู‚ุฉ ุงู„ุชูŠ ุญุงูุธุช ุนู„ู‰ ู‡ุฐุง ุงู„ุฅุฑุซ ุงู„ุงู†ุณุงู†ูŠ ุงู„ุฌู…ูŠู„ ุฎุตูˆุตุง ููŠ ูุงุณ ูˆู…ุฑุงูƒุด..ุชุญูŠุงุชูŠ ูˆุชู‚ุฏูŠุฑูŠ.

  8. I positively love this. I love Morocco. Subhan Allah. I love Moroccan artisans and especially Zillij…when I was younger I was a member of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen of the USA Tilesetters Union. Moroccans are the best Tilesetters in the World. They almost bejewel a building and its spaces. And to witness, today, those who carry the skills of producing an Alhambra is priceless.

  9. This is really beautiful. I went to morroco when i was younger and i always wanted to one day build a house like this, this video maybe one day can help

  10. It's islamic art not only Marroco, and this art is more oulder than the name Marroco!!! And befor the Islam this art did not exist…

  11. Stunningly beautiful. So glad to hear that Morocco is making an effort to preserve the amazing art that is their heritage.

  12. This Islamic art taken from the Arabs
    They brought it to the north of Africa then built Andaluthia with it
    And they still use it luckily
    They callled it Nakish in the old days and colored stones called fusayfesah

  13. This is the kind of art museums should be commissioning. Why don't people do more like this? Why do they do all that grungy modern stuff?

  14. Islam was on the zenith of architecture ,science ,technology medicine ,mathematics and of course military ,Tajmahal and countless other buildings around the world are living example of it

  15. interestingly amazigh have no ancient court like Alhambra after Alhambra it was morocco where it been built for centuries credit goes to the Muslim empire of Spain who introduce that phenomenon of beauty

  16. The artistry and dedication by tthese crafstman is just incredible. Such respect they have for their culture and history, and a willingness to share it with the world.

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