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An exemplary case of this is Yasmeen Lari, the first Pakistani woman to graduate in architecture (in 1963) who over the last 12 years, after going into retirement, has turned herself into a sort of mentor helping a population tormented by continual disasters – earthquakes and floods – to rebuild a life, starting with a roof over their heads.
In an attempt to discredit the widespread belief that concrete walls are more resistant than those made of mud, Yasmeen Lari has travelled from one rural village to another, teaching their inhabitants that quicklime mixed with sand is the ideal raw material with which to build the walls of their houses.
“In the places where the granaries are still flourishing, it is necessary to help the local population to ensure the life and preservation of these mountains,” says Naji.
And she goes on: “The agadirs (or ighrems, depending on the dialect of the Berber tribe) are the product of solidarity and need to be preserved and renovated so that they can survive.
The Atlas mountain range is strewn with fortified citadels whose colours blend in with the landscape, perched on top of peaks as high as 4,000 metres.
These are not inhabited villages but communal granaries – storage structures accessible on foot or by mule along dirt roads where entire settlements once kept their possessions.
For humanity.” Even from the technical and engineering viewpoint these are extraordinary constructions that reflect a truly exemplary way of thinking about rural development: bioclimatic structures with a system of holes in the walls that keep them at a constant temperature and provide permanent ventilation for the storage of perishable goods.
Now a woman is trying to change their destiny: Salima Naji has travelled many kilometres through the mountains, visiting over 300 granaries at risk of destruction.
“I haven’t invented anything,” declares this charming lady wrapped in a dupatta (the typical South Asian scarf).
“To realize that we have to learn from the past, all you need to do is take a stroll through the necropolis of Makli or Lahore Fort (both listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, editor’s note), which despite dating from the 14 century are largely intact.” Between 2005 and the present day, 40,000 constructions have been built by the Pakistani architect, but she is well aware of not having reached even the halfway mark in the effort.
That is thanks to the ancestral building methods used by Salima Naji, a French-educated Moroccan architect who specialises in construction that blends in with the environment and local traditions.
Rather than concrete, she used adobe and mudbrick, and built in high air vents for circulation."First I look at what's available on the scene, rather than bring things in from elsewhere," said the architect who has a second degree in anthropology and who has restored several historical buildings.
Each family had a room (in the largest granaries there were over 500) in which to protect their crops and seeds, oil, honey, dates, dried figs, sheepskins, family documents and jewellery from the harsh temperatures of the winter period or from wars and sieges.