The historic city of Fès, once the capital of Morocco, was built with labyrinthine passageways and enclosed by high walls to thwart invaders.Today the once-prosperous trading center faces a different kind of threat. Ancient structures are crumbling, and the pressures of modern civilization can complicate decisions about restoration.
Hajar Jafferji ’11, ’12 (MS CE), currently a doctoral student in civil engineering at WPI, received a Fulbright U.S. Student Award to compare the performance of traditional and modern building techniques. “During my graduate work in materials science, I began thinking about the materials used in ancient times, when there was no mechanized technology or computer software to assist builders with designs,” she says. “What was it that made these historic structures so durable, able to last to the modern day?” Working with Ader Fez, a local government organization, Jafferji is analyzing deficient riads (traditional homes), mosques, and souks (marketplaces) that might incorporate lime-mud brick, cement, and wood.
“I believe that by restoring Fès, the history of the city can be preserved,” she states, even with need to incorporate modern amenities, such as access for emergency vehicles, into a city of bicycles and donkey carts.
An important aspect of her work—and of the city’s future—is collaboration with local artisans and skilled craftsmen. “These artisans safeguard crafts that are often solely oral knowledge that is passed down through generations.” Jafferji contends that outside solutions, such as new building materials that are foreign to locals, are never the ideal answer. “Solutions to engineering problems must include input from local citizens regarding what is appropriate in their particular socioeconomic context.”
Jafferji will also spend time with women students from Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, where WPI has a project center, to learn about STEM education in the Arab world. “I hope to learn more about Moroccan culture and to bring back lessons learned,” she says. “Sharing our experiences will provide a unique opportunity to better understand our societies.”