Category Archives: Interesting Design Projects

Le Jardin Secret Marrakech

Marrakech’s Secret Garden

Tucked away behind 30 foot walls on Rue Mouassine in the Medina is Le Jardin Secret, Marrakech’s Secret Garden.  It’s a place to escape the hustle and bustle of the medina and take refuge in the tranquil courtyard gardens of one of Marrakech’s largest and oldest riads.

Le Jardin Secret

The Story Behind Le Jardin Secret

There is evidence of a palace on the site of Le Jardin Secret dating back to the reign of Sultan Moulay ‘Abd-Allah al-Galib in the sixteenth century, however what you can see today is the reconstruction of a riad, which was built at the beginning of the nineteenth century by the leader of the Haha tribe, Kaid al-Hajj Ab-Allah U-Bihi.  The kaid subsequently fell out of favour with the Sultan and was poisoned by him.  The last inhabitant of the riad was watchmaker and Chamberlain to the Sultan, Mohammed Loukrissi.  Loukrissi lived in the palatial compound with his three wives and children until his death in 1934.  After his death ownership of the riad was divided up amongst his descendants and it fell into disrepair.

The riad was rediscovered by Lauro Milan, the owner of Cafe Arabe, which stands opposite Le Jardin Secret, and his business partner, Sante Giovanni Albonetti.  They were curious about what lay behind the imposing walls and discovered a shanty town of dwellings on the site of a nineteenth century palace.  After lengthy negotiations with the 130 plus inheritors they purchased the site initially intending to build a hotel but once the shacks were removed and it became clear that this was a site of historical interest the decision was made to restore the riad and the gardens and create a visitor attraction.

The Riad Gardens

Award winning gardener, Tom Stuart Smith, was responsible for the garden design and the planting in the two courtyard gardens.  Both gardens adhere to the original nineteenth century layout but are very different from each other.  The larger of the two, with its strict geometric structure and planting, remains faithful to the Islamic original whilst the smaller, Exotic garden, is a visual mix of sculptural and textural planting and bold bursts of colour using  drought resistant plants which would not have been available in Morocco in the nineteenth century.

The Islamic Garden

The layout of the Islamic garden follows a pattern called the Chahar bagh, meaning fourfold garden.  The earliest example of this style of garden dates back to 500BC in Pasargadae in Iran where the four quarters of the garden were divided by irrigation channels.  Initially this layout was developed to facilitate irrigation however with the rise of Islam in the 7th century this division of the garden into four sections came symbolically to represent the description of paradise in the Koran.

There are four essential elements to an Islamic garden: water for irrigation, which is viewed as a blessing from heaven, shade, the chahar bagh and enclosure; a space separated from the outside, a private paradise.

Le Jardin Secret

Staying true to the traditional design, the most important paths are tiled with terracotta bejmat tiles in a greenish turquoise glaze.  The herringbone pattern and variations of green in the tiles create the illusion of running water.

le jardin secret

In an Islamic garden the planting as well as the garden layout follows a strict format.  The most important trees are the fig, the olive, the date palm and the pomegranate, all of which have religious significance. Tom Stuart Smith has added sweet orange, lemon and argan trees to the mix and planted rosemary, grasses, lavender,  jasmine, tuberose, damask rose, musk rose, Turkish tea sage and grape-vine beneath the trees to create a meadow effect.

Le Jardin Secret

The pavilions surrounding the Islamic garden have been reconstructed using 19th century techniques.  The larger of the two pavilions the Oud el Ward(above), named after one of Loukrissis’ wives features a room with a dome or qubba, which was designed for Loukrissi to receive guests and a 17m tower.  The tower, which is the height of many of the mosque minarets, and the qubba both indicate Loukrissi’s status as does the private hammam which is to the side of the garden.  If you visit make sure to visit the tower as the views from it extend over the city to the Atlas mountains.

Le Jardin Secret

The restored riads feature hand sculpted plasterwork, traditional tadelakt walls and ornate painted wooden ceilings and doors.

Le Jardin Secret

Originally water for the gardens would have come from the Atlas mountains to Marrakech via an underground system of tunnels known as khettaras developed by the Almoravids in the eleventh century.  The water flowed from the mountains to huge tanks in the Agdal and Menara gardens and from there via gravity to the mosques, public water fountains and hammams in the city.  The khettara system hasn’t been in use since the 1950s so an existing well was redug in one corner of the garden and supplies the water for both gardens. The rills and paths and irrigation channels are set above the planted level of the garden so that water can spill over and irrigate the gardens.

Le Jardin Secret

Decorative benches are placed by the fountains so that you can sit, listen to the trickle of water and the birdsong and enjoy the serenity and calm of this elegant garden.

The Exotic Garden

Walk into the Le Jardin Secret from Rue Mouassine and your senses are immediately awakened by the trickle of water along irrigation channels and overspilling from fountains, the modern Moroccan architecture, the birdsong and the splashes of colour, and textural and sculptural designs of the planting in the Exotic garden.  The Exotic garden is the smaller of the two gardens and contains plants from Mexico, South Africa, Brazil, Bolivia, Madagascar, the Canary Islands,  Australia and Mediterranean countries.  The plants are all from semi-arid climates like Morocco and are drought resistant to minimize the need for water.

Le Jardin Secret

Le Jardin Secret

The new pavilion was built on the foundations of an earlier structure but there was no evidence of the riad so the design is modern.  This pavilion provides the concealed entrance to the Islamic garden so you walk from a modern garden with dramatic shapes, texture and pops of colour through to an elegant, structured garden in calming shades of green accompanied by the calming sound of running water.

Le Jardin Secret

A spiky Ceiba tree from South America stands out against the slate grey backdrop of the modern reception building.

Le Jardin Secret

Le Jardin Secret

Le Jardin Secret provides insight into the design, beauty and symbolism of an Islamic garden, the lives of the wealthy in Marrakech in the nineteenth century and the development of Marrakech as a city. It delights with its contrasting courtyard gardens, juxtaposing traditional and modern planting schemes and old and new architecture. If you are planning to visit my advice is to get there early in the day so that you can appreciate the sights before the crowds arrive.

 

How To Find Le Jardin Secret

It can be difficult to navigate the labyrinth of alleys in the medina however, Le Jardin Secret is situated in Rue Mouassine, which is one of the larger thoroughfares.  It is not far from the Mouassine mosque and is opposite the Cafe Arabe so if you ask in the medina for either of those two landmarks you should find it.  I recommend visiting early in the morning and taking a guided tour.   If you are interested in gardens and gardening I also recommend Tom Stuart-Smith’s fascinating guide, which I have referred to for this post.

Seeking Africa Exhibition

Seeking Africa: Design/Art Across A Continent Exhibition

Seeking Africa: Design/Art Across A Continent

 

The Seeking Africa exhibition, at Themes and Variations on Westbourne Grove in London, is one of the first exhibitions in the UK to focus on the variety of contemporary design from Africa.  The exhibition has been cleverly curated to give a glimpse of what is happening in different countries via chosen artists.  Themes range from pollution and the effects on the environment, reflected in photography and furniture from recycled oil drums, to story telling through basket weaving.

 

The basket weaving drew my attention as two of the baskets are from a series of three Biography Baskets.  These Biography baskets are part of the Song of the Weaver project, created by three generations of weavers: grandmother, daughter and granddaughter from one family who work for social enterprise, Gone Rural, in Swaziland. Each of the baskets in the series captures the memories of the lives of  the weaver through grasses and objects found on their homesteads.

 

Seeking Africa Exhibition

Seeking Africa Exhibition

The basket above is by Siphiwe Mngometulu, the daughter of the trio, who is the head of her homestead.  Siphiwe left school after falling pregnant and began weaving to support her child.  Together Siphiwe and her husband had six more children building a life together at his homestead.  Then one day her husband sold all their cattle and left.  He did not return for four years.

Siphiwe had to leave her husband’s family homestead but with her income from Gone Rural she was able to start her life again, building a new house and buying animals  but she has yet to regain her herd of cattle.  This is her ultimate dream.  Her husband now visits a few times a year.   Her basket is a visual memoir of her life.  Woven from grasses and collected objects, there are memories embedded in every strand of the basket.  Like the bone, which signifies that Siphiwe is the backbone of her family.  The goat skull and metal disc are reminders of her husband as Siphiwe always slays a goat when he returns home and the disc symbolises her husband’s return by bicycle.  The numerous layers of grasses symbolise the years of Siphiwe’s life (some fertile and some dry).

 

Seeking Africa Exhibition

The basket above is by Bonakele Ngwenya, Siphiwe’s first-born daughter.  Like her mother she left school at 16 when she became pregnant.  She was sad to have to leave school but happy to have a daughter.  Bonakele learnt how to weave from her mother and joined Gone Rural to support her child.  Her basket is very different in style from her mother’s.   The use of pink symbolises her love for her daughter and the metal loops represent her husband’s unstable employment.  The depressed base is her sadness at having to leave school and the zig zag patterns on the top of the basket allude to the style of basket she normally weaves for Gone Rural and her prayer for more work in the future.

seeking africa exhibition

seeking africa exhibition

Another Gone Rural basket, from a different collection, woven from recycled fabric and plastic covered grasses and copper wire.

 

seeking

 

seeking africa exhibition

Also part of the Seeking Africa exhibition were two striking baskets by Beauty Ngxongo from Zululand.  Functional, beautiful and decorative, Zulu baskets are some of the most collectable in the world.  The ones above are tightly woven from ilala palm, so tightly woven that the they are watertight.  I particularly like the earthy mix of colours and striking patterns in these baskets.

 

The Seeking Africa exhibition runs until 16th December but hurry if you want to see everything as the exhibits are for sale and are selling fast. Learn more at Themes and Variations, 231 Westbourne Grove, London.

 

The background information on the Biography Baskets is from Gone Rural.  Find out more about social enterprise Gone Rural here and click here to see our selection of baskets from Gone Rural.

Raff Handbags

Raff Fair Trade Handbags

Raff bags

I had been looking for a small, sturdy, stylish and comfortable leather backpack for ages when I came across the Hugo backpack from Raff.   I was thrilled to discover a contemporary backpack, that can also be worn as a cross body bag, which has been handcrafted using traditional techniques.  Each bag is handmade in India according to Fair Trade principles.  We caught up with Raff’s Creative Head, Rashi Agarwal, to find out more about the brand.

 

Raff bags

How would you describe your brand?

Raff is inspired from the simplicity of minimalism. A contemporary brand but still traditional in the way that the bags are made. We focus on the details and the craftsmanship to provide great quality leather bags which are unique and stand the test of time. Raff supports Fair Trade and we pay fair wages to our craftsmen, which is an integral part of the brand.

Raff bag Maus

What inspired you to start a handcrafted leather bags company?

Leather is something that I love working with as it only gets better with age. After graduating in 2012 from London College of Fashion in Accessory design, with the extensive knowledge of leather bag making under my arsenal, I joined a leading leather handbag company in India as a Product Designer. Working there for two years gave me a good insight into how the leather handbag industry works. During this time I met my now fiance and partner Maurits. Designing and making handbags at home for myself was a hobby. A tote bag that I made (which is now called Maus, named after Maurits)(above) inspired us to develop the range and start our own leather bags company. We wanted to create something that is unique but is still practical and of top quality. We worked hard on the designs and the brand for two years before finally launching Raff in January, 2016.

Why buffalo leather?

Raff handbags are made of natural, vegetable tanned buffalo leather which is one of the strongest hides and provides durability to the bag. It is the perfect leather for hand stitching as it doesn’t stretch over-time. Also, our bags are quite unique in their shapes and it is an important design element. The buffalo leather holds the shape really well even with frequent use.
Raff bags
Raff bags
Raff bags

What makes a Raff bag unique?

Raff’s unique shapes sets it apart from other bags in the market, yet they still blend seamlessly with a modern women’s wardrobe. The handbags are completely handmade and hand stitched using a saddle stitch technique. This painstaking and traditional construction method offers unmatched strength, lasting longer than normal machine stitching. This is not commonly seen in brands at our prices, as it is very time consuming and a dying art. We wanted to bring that to our brand and hence each bag is completely handmade with no use of any machinery. Our leathers are environmentally friendly and harmless to the skin. They are made by artisans in India who are provided fair pricing and healthy living conditions.
Raff handbags
Raff handbags
Raff handbags

Where do you find your inspiration?

Inspiration is everywhere. Modern art and architecture are a great source of inspiration. I look for interesting shapes that I could redesign and create into a silhouette for handbags. Raff’s current collection was inspired from a top view image of the Praxis 48 typewriter by Ettore Sottsass and Hans von Klier. I took the negative space and started sketching, which resulted in the design for Maus.

What’s next for Raff?

We are very excited to finally reach out to customers in Europe and are looking to expand our presence there. Currently I am working on designing small leather goods and a few designs for men to add to the range, which is very exciting.
Raff bags
 You can view the Raff collection here.  Raff is offering free shipping in the EU.  For those of you based in the Netherlands you can shop at nl.shopraff.com.  Customers outside the Netherlands can visit shopraff.com to place an order.

Graphic Africa Exhibition, Platform, Habitat

Amidst all the pre event chaos preparing for designjunction, I managed to pop out and visit the Graphic Africa Exhibition, at Platform, Habitat’s gallery space in its King’s Road store.  The exhibition features over 20 pieces of new contemporary furniture by 16 designers from East, West and Southern Africa and is well worth a visit.

The exhibition has been carefully curated with products in a neutral palette, of blacks, greys and browns with the odd zing of copper, a bright purple chair and glittering gold from striking Kenyan necklaces.   Handwoven silk textiles from Ethiopia are showcased alongside large black and white graphic floor cushions in Bogolon (traditional mud cloth) from Mali, produced in collaboration with the Habitat design team and sculptural, black, organic shaped pottery from Ghana.   Here are a couple of shots of things that caught my eye.  Please excuse the quality as I forgot my camera and had to use my iPhone.

 

Graphic-Africa-3

An eye-catching cabinet from Dokter and Misses, South Africa

 

 

Graphic-Africa-2

A beautiful vase from Imiso, South Africa

 

 

Graphic-Africa-1

An industrial style metal sideboard by Hamed Ouattara, Burkina Faso

 

More information about the show and its designers can be found at: http://www.habitat.co.uk/Platform_GraphicAfrica/content/fcp-content and information about the initiative behind the show can be found at: http://designnetworkafrica.org/about/

 

Octavia’s Orchard at the Southbank Centre

Octavia's-Orchard

I was out with friends enjoying the sunshine by the Southbank centre and came across Octavia’s Orchard, a clever installation designed to introduce some greenery to the area and soften the urban landscape.   Please excuse the quality of the photos as they were taken on my iPhone.   The project, is designed by What if: projects in collaboration with the National Trust for the Southbank Centre’s Festival of Neighbourhood.  It was inspired by Octavia Hill, a social reformer and one of the founders of the National Trust who, a century earlier, was concerned with the wellbeing of urban dwellers and campaigned for open spaces in London.  She believed that “tenants and urban workers should have access to open spaces…Places to sit in, places to play in, places to stroll in and places to spend a day in.”

The designers have cleverly repurposed 30 galvanised steel street bins, commonly used on housing estates and filled them with 3m high fruit trees and meadow flowers to create a contemporary, orchard.  Design workshop, Jail, has built modern benches from galvanised steel and green oak, which link with some of the bins, so you can sit and enjoy the scenery.  It’s amazing how such a simple idea can transform an ugly concrete walkway.

It’s not only the planting which attracts the attention, the bins have quotes from Octavia Hill, printed on the outside, like this one:”Beauty is for all: beauty is the single glimpse of green, in sunlight however dimmed, in clouds however darkened, in faces however worn.”  raising awareness of the social reformer and her ideas. They also have the words  “Adopt me” printed on them as London housing estates can apply to adopt them when the festival ends.  Four housing estates will be chosen and will be twinned with National Trust properties so they can receive training from their gardeners.

Octavia’s Orchard, which is part of the Festival of Neighbourhood, is on the Festival Terrace on Royal Festival Hall’s Level 2 Terrace until 8th September.

Octavia's-Orchard-detatil

More information on the Festival of Neighbourhood can be found at: http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/festivals-series/festival-of-neighbourhood

PET lamps from Studio Alvaro Catalan de Ocon

PET lamps from Studio Alvaro Catalan de Ocon in a cafe in Ibiza

 

These fabulous lamps, made from reused polyethylene teraphthalate (PET) plastic bottles, from Studio Alvaro Catalan de Ocon are on my wishlist.  I came across this clever contemporary design project, which combines the reuse of PET bottles with the traditional weaving skills of Columbia’s displaced artisans to create these amazing light installations, in a roundup of Milan’s furniture fair in World of Interiors.  I love the way that these lamps not only help tackle the problem of plastic bottles contaminating the Colombian Amazon but also utilise the traditional handicraft skills of displaced local weavers and provide them with an income.

Lamp Design And Production

Alvaro Catalan de Ocon, the Spanish product designer behind the project says,”We took advantage of the bottle top to join the electrical components to the lamp shade, the neck as the structure and the body of the bottle as a surface on which to weave. The principle of weaving is reinterpreted and the surface of the bottle is converted into the warp through which the artisan weaves the weft.

Weaving-the-plastic

Weaving the plastic bottles into lampshades

In the same way that the tracking number printed on the bottles neck tells us of its production, where it was bottled and its destined market, the weaving created by the artisan tells us of their tradition by way of its fibres, colours and motifs.”

Alvaro and his team worked with two groups of artisans from the Cauca region of Columbia who had recently been displaced by guerrilla war and were living in difficult circumstances in Bogota.  Both groups are known for their weaving skills, the Eperara-Siapidara use the fibres from the Paja Tetera palm tree for traditional crafts which they then die with natural pigments and the Guambianos from the central mountain range of the Andes weave wool and cotton using symbols and motifs which date back to the Incas.

The Final Product

Weaver-with-light1 Weaver2

Domingo Ullurie and Maria Stella Cuchillo with their finished lamps.

As you can see the lamps take on the patterns and colours of the traditional clothing and each piece is unique.

The-designer-with-lampsThe designer, Alvaro Catalan de Ocon, with a selection of lamps in a range of styles, colours and patterns

PET-lamp-in-situA PET lamp installation in the Eperara Siapidara Courtyard.

If you are in London and want to see the lights, there is an installation on the ground floor of the Conran Shop in Marylebone High Street.  The lamps can be purchased individually or in sets of 3, 6, 12 and 21 and you can choose the individual lamps.  I have my eye on a set as I like the visual mix of colours, styles and patterns and think they would create a real focal point in a room.  The PET lamps website is www.petlamp.org.

Photographs and background information for this blog have been taken from PET lamps press information.