A model for sustainable living in developing worlds, specifically focusing on Arabian deserts

Aziza Chaouni

For hundreds of years, desert living was made possible by the creation of oases through careful land and building management. Now, due to tourism and climate change, that's all quickly changing: communities are being forced to leave, the desert is creeping in and heritage is being lost. Chaouni aims to reverse the damage through a design approach that incorporates sustainability with social and economic values. In her latest project, she collaborated with local communities and experts in M'hamid, in the city of Fez, that were at risk of being swallowed by the desert – but still barely holding on. Chaouni’s solution? To build a music school, called Joudour Sahara, using sustainable, local materials – such as rammed earth, stone, wood and bamboo – and an autonomous energy system run on photovoltaic power. Thanks to the project, the desert has stopped trying to eat M’hamid, residents are staying in their homes and their cultural heritage is now thriving. She concluded with a song to M’hamid that was written and performed by the students of Joudour Sahara.

About the Speaker

Aziza Chaouni
Architect + Ecotourism Specialist + TED Fellow

Aziza Chaouni is a civil engineer and an architect. She creates sustainable, built environments in the developing world, focusing on the Middle East deserts. Aziza's design philosophy holds that it is not enough for sustainable buildings to have zero impact—they must give back to the community socially, economically, and environmentally. Aziza aspires to innovate through collaboration with local communities and experts from other disciplines to integrate architecture, landscape, and infrastructure. Having been born and raised in Fez, Morocco, Aziza has a deep fascination with the Fez River. What was once considered the city's soul and water supply became a toxic sewer because of overcrowding and pollution in the 1950s. This was covered and eventually became a dumping ground. With immense determination, Aziza has been working on this project for two decades, starting with a thesis she wrote about it as a graduate student and then making it her career.