“I always try to find the poetic dimension of architecture,” said Moroccan architect Driss Kettani, who established his Casablanca-based architecture studio in 2005. “It’s important to me, because architecture doesn’t have to be cold or systematic, or like a machine. You have to have something poetic, and you have to find it.”
The Fes-born architect spent his childhood in Côte d’Ivoire, and though his family had always hoped he would return to Morocco, it wouldn’t be until his university days that he would see the beaches of Rabat and the cascading white buildings of Casablanca.
After graduating from the École Nationale d’Architecture in Rabat in 2003, Kettani took a year off to travel and freelance. In 2005, he set up his own firm, Driss Kettani Architecte, and today he’s completed projects across various sectors including education, residential and office, as well as dabbled in furniture design.
“My first big project was the Taroudant University. I worked on it with my friends and partners, Saad El Kabbaj and Mohamed Amine Siana. We were young at the time and only had our separate offices for one year by then. The project was four years of very hard work though, so it’s a special one for me.”
Completed in 2010, the Taroudant University follows a structural layout and architectural aesthetic that would later come to characterise Kettani’s work. Blending into the environment of southern Morocco, the building, like his others, features wide but short volumes and boasts the colour of diaphanous sand brown. “We’re friends from school,” Kettani explained of his frequent collaborations with El Kabbaj and Siana. “We share the same values in architecture and sometimes it’s nice to share ideas and work together, and sometimes it’s nice to work alone and with your own sensibility.”
Kettani’s projects, now numbering around 20, reflect the architect’s passions and are always made to coexist with their surrounding environment. In southern Morocco, his buildings are often mid-rise and bronze, while his villas in Casablanca are always white and geometric. “It’s the white city,” he said. “So when I work there, I mirror the environment in the project.”
But even with the driving mission to contribute to Morocco’s architecture rather than dot it with structures that protrude and disrupt the homogeneity of the landscape, Kettani is loyal to his beliefs in modernism – and to his beliefs in its boundaries.
“I love modern contemporary architecture. We need to be from our time with a present vision, but my aim is to always combine this with a feeling of the place and its history – the context of the project,” he said. “Architecture has to be rational and it has to use geometry. Finding the poetic dimension doesn’t mean you should do strange forms, but you can always find a way between the rationality, geometry and strength while also communicating something special.”
Citing trees, clouds and trips to the city as possible sources of inspiration, Kettani maintains his respect for architectural giants like Oscar Niemeyer and Luis Barragán, as well as the French-Moroccan architect Jean-François Zevaco.
“I don’t like the strange and extravagant forms in architecture,” he said. “I love the rationality, the rigor, the geometry and the purity, but architecture should always be simple because simplicity is strength. It can bring architecture to a higher level.”
Among Kettani’s many accomplishments is his work on the Technology School of Guelmim (also built in association with El Kabbaj and Siana), which was short-listed for an Aga Khan Award for Architecture and won the Archmarathon Award in 2015. Consisting of large geometric blocks, designed to allow minimal light through without losing connection to the site’s other buildings, the university in Guelmim rests south of Marrakesh and sits just east of the coast.
The villas he’s delivered in Casablanca stand apart from his education projects, and offer sharply pointed concrete forms in shades of white that seem to pierce the blue sky and jut away from their planted landscape, creating almost surrealist visions.
Kettani’s relationship with the sea and ocean are perhaps private passions of his, though the culture of the Arab-Mediterranean is strongly visible in his work. Minimal yet colourful, subtle yet confident, his work reflects his roots and the heritage of the land and people around him.
“I love the Mediterranean,” he said. “I love it. It’s a place you really feel something special. It inspires me, for sure. I think architects are like artists. We feel a lot of things, a lot of temptations and emotions, but the aim is to always bring back the things you see and feel in your architecture. It doesn’t mean you have to repeat something in the same way, but you have to listen to the world, and to nature.”
Rima Al Sammarae