Ismael Medkouri

Graduate Student

I am a subject of the Kingdom of Morocco, where I was trained and worked (briefly) as an architect. I quit Groupe3Architectes (Rabat) when I was granted a Fulbright fellowship to study urbanization in mountain settlements in Morocco, which earned me an M.S. in Geography from the University of Montana. Directly afterward I infiltrated the Department of History at Princeton under the guise of ‘Environmental History’ – a new field only nominally, since historical geographers such as my mentor Jeffrey Gritzner and his teachers Carl Sauer, Marvin Mikesell, or Clarence Glacken of the so-called ‘Berkeley School of Geography’ have been doing just that since the 1920s.

At Princeton I was trained in the historiography of the Maghreb by M’hamed Oualdi, in landscape history by Vera Candiani, and in the methods of intellectual history by Federico Marcon. I was shepherded through this disciplinary drill by Prof. Molly Greene, who shares my interest in 'the mountain' as an object-and-subject of history, and who will supervise my dissertation.

My dissertation project is about a particular category of houses, referred to in the jargon as the ‘Moroccan House’ (French: habitat marocain), which emerged across decolonization in the 20th century. From an orientalizing category of historical and urban analysis in the 1920s, to an experimental project of colonial planning in the 1950s, today the category of ‘Moroccan House’ stands for two thirds of the national housing stock, characterizing the country’s landscape from metropolises to remote settlements.

Expert and amateur opinions concur in that the ‘Moroccan House’ is detrimental to the functioning of the built environment, unpleasant to look at, and essentially unauthentic – but little research has been done on a form so ubiquitous that it is simply called ‘dar’, or ‘house’, in colloquial speak. My dissertation project seeks to recover the entangled genealogies of the ‘Moroccan House’ as a recognizable form, as a legal type, and as an idea. I hope to use this conspicuous thing of today’s Morocco to critically intervene in the historiography of the Moroccan landscape, review the global imaginary of what a characteristically Moroccan architecture is, and more generally contribute to timely debates in environmental history, planning, and aesthetics.

In addition to the documentary archives around the ‘Moroccan House’ through the 20th century, I propose to experiment/explore the use of morphological analysis of contemporary landscapes to excavate undocumented features of the form’s past. As such, the project involves methods borrowed from material culture studies, historical geography, semiotics, and urban studies.

This historical research project is concurrent to a more pragmatic architectural project conducted at Penn State by Salma Zerkaoui (who happens to be my wife as well as my collaborator). Hers focuses on the dchar, a historical form of mountain settlement which has recently entered the scope of state planning, and where the sprouting of modern ‘Moroccan houses’ is perceived as an environmental and cultural ‘crisis’.

Year of Study
Seventh Year
Area of Interest
Intellectual History
Landscape Studies
Material Culture
Urban History
Home Department & Other Affiliations
19th Century
20th Century
21st Century