Mikou Studio: Salwa Mikou, Selma Mikou – Nominees arcVision Prize 2016

Mikou Studio – Salwa Mikou Selma Mikou (France/Morocco)

The Franco-Moroccan architects Salwa Mikou and Selma Mikou were born and grew up in Fez, where they absorbed the influence of the contrasting light and shadows found in the city’s medina (the largest in the world).

The memory of that experience would accompany them throughout their training, first through the study of the great modern masters, and then with direct experience in the studios of two of them: Renzo Piano for Selma and Jean Nouvel for Salwa. Founding Mikou Studio in Paris, the two designers have dedicated themselves to the pursuit of a language capable of fusing contemporary elements with the spatial codes of the natural and urban landscapes of North Africa. With the Feng Shui pool in Issy les Moulineaux, France (2015), they worked with the theme of spatial fluidity and with the exploitation of natural light through a series of “bubble” skylights. www.mikoustudio.com


“MIKOU STUDIO is a place of creation and experimentation in Architecture and interdisciplinary cross-fertilization. Every project is an opportunity for challenging and redefining the meaning of a brief, a function in an urban, social and human context, in order to invent new ways of living, places of sharing and gathering. In our office, we try to consider and take advantage of cultural exceptions, and of the geographical and environmental specificity linked to each context, so as to enrich our architectural response – which as a result is never global and dehumanized, but is a matter of resonance and continuity. We also try to integrate technical and structural resources in the service of the project’s architectural expression, developing intelligent envelopes and principles for innovative, ecological façades. Architecture has both a social and a human role. Architecture’s vocation is to be at the service of society, to invent new spaces for new uses and transform the world. We work on every project to make it the bearer of this vocation.

Mikou Studio was recently selected to represent Morocco at the Venice Biennale 2014, directed by Rem Koolhaas on the theme “Fundamentals – Absorbing Modernity 1914-2014”.
This overview of a century of urban modernity was the opportunity for us to recall Morocco’s contribution to architecture’s fundamental historical repertoire, through unique landmark examples of social and architectural experimentation on the question of habitat and its transformation, from traditional dwellings in the Medina right up to modern collective ensembles.”



Location: Boucraa, Morocco
Project Type: Urban Planning and experimental housing
Use of the Building: Inhabiting the desert, Boucraa an invisible town
Construction Period: Experimental project
Awards/Publication: Venice Biennale catalogue, Pavilion of Morocco Venice Biennale 2014

The drapery of the Territory Our project explores the traces left by mining activity in Boucraa, a town in the Sahara 100km south-west of Laâyoune, and proposes to transform and revitalize them in order to create the conditions necessary for living, in a restorative process to re-naturalize the ground, which has been exploited. The landscape is inhabited by a drapery of folds, faults and hollows, the results of crude ore extraction from the soil, and currently consists of the artificial hills and furrows of overturned earth from the mining activity. This project shapes the relief and topography so as to give substance to spaces which were previously impossible or unthinkable, spaces open to the sky, the sun and the moon, buried in the earth like a starry network, a textured interweaving of masses and voids, which will constitute the imaginary aspect of an invisible town. The experience of limits Boucraa, then, is an invisible town, a town buried under the meanderings of the ground at several levels, following the artificial topography resulting from the mining works. Written into the archaeology of traces, and woven like a rocky lacework of folds and hollows oriented towards the landscape below the hills and furrows, it is only visible through its gates, conceived as watchtowers on the balcony of a broad landscape. This invisible town, made up of successive, layered folds and faultlines, relies on the relief and geography in order to create a desert habitat, in continuity with cave-dwelling habitats. It rediscovers the Eden-like conditions of the oasis formed through planted gardens in the heart of fields of dunes, and evokes an “ecological well-being” won from the extreme conditions of nature in the desert. From extraction to green mines Inhabiting the ground – an almost neutral environmental footprint Inhabiting the ground itself makes it possible to return to the sources of habitat, to recreate a symbiosis with the immediate environment. On a thermal level, the ground enables us to disconnect the housing from fluctuations in temperature. It provides an envelope whose temperature is virtually constant all year round. Dug into the ground, the housing already possesses natural protection, which maintains comfortable hygro-thermal conditions. The ground can thus be considered as a thermal buffer which insulates and protects. Alcoves carved out of the ground create inhabitable volumes fed by tubular systems running through the walls to bring the necessary warmth and cold. These tubular systems activate the ground’s thermal inertia and work with the natural thermal de-phasing. They are energy-emitters connected to natural sources such as solar energy or the lunar system.


Location: Issy les Moulineaux, France
Project Type: Swimming Pool
Use of the Building: Swimming pool, health club, solarium, squash courts, sauna, hammam, sport activities
Construction Period: September 2013 – June 2015
Awards/Publication: Silver Trophy “Cadre de Vie” 2015 Fimbacte Award; « Isséen d’Or » 2016 ; Domus -Frame- Icon- The Plan

A swimming pool in a spatial continuum We designed the Fort swimming pool near Paris in a spirit of fluidity and openness. The development of the spaces gives priority to transparency and the depth of field associated with very good use of daylight. All the facades are open and accessible, and the various elements of the program are organized in the form of light, colored bubbles floating on the project’s spatial continuum. This composition helps to identify precisely all the pool functions by giving them recognizable visibility and a strong identity. The program includes a 25m swimming pool, a leisure pool, a wellness center with hammam and sauna, a fitness center with body-building room, squash courts, changing rooms, cafeteria, interior solariums and outdoor solarium on the roof. A solarium on the roof. The design scheme emphasizes the roof as a key element of the swimming pool, providing a solarium accessible via an indoor-outdoor ramp that runs along the swimming pool hall and provides access to the fifth facade. An undulating double skin We designed the building’s envelope to attenuate the linear effect of the masses and to introduce a variation in the visual perception according to the viewing angle. All the external walls are faced with undulating golden wooden slats, which recall the circular movements on the surface of water and make reference to the circulation of energy and flows: Feng Shui.


Location: Saint Denis, Grand Paris, France
Project Type: Educational and Sport
Use of the Building: Scientific and technical college, catering, boarding school, gymnasium, staff accommodation
Construction Period: March 2011 – March 2013 Awards/Publication: Archi Design Club Award 2015; D’A, The Plan, C3, Archistorm, Domus

Jean Lurçat Collège in Saint Denis is at the junction of two basic fabrics: an area of scattered low-rise detached housing, which is unstructured but constitutes the neighborhood’s identity and creates a friendly human scale on Rue Diderot and Rue d’Alembert; and the Parc des Sports (sports park), which opens on to the La Courneuve landscaped park and provides the school with an open perspective and a strong link with green spaces and the city gardens. The school is both in the middle of nature surrounded by greenery and very near to the low-rise housing around it. The challenge with this building is that it must be integrated into the site without masking the park landscape, while linking the domestic, maternal scale of the local housing through views and visual bearings that make the school a major feature in the urban composition. Our analysis of these requirements led us to design the school as a series of separate but linked blocks or wings in a park. These blocks, oriented north-south for maximum sunshine, are arranged delicately on the site, following a curve that reflects the footprint of the park. They are unified by buffer areas open onto planted patios that allow a clear view of the sports park, and by an undulating folded metal roof, which protects the patios from overheating in summer and creates a microclimate in the terraced gardens. In the architectural treatment of the metal roof pans, the roof adopts the same concept and aesthetic as the blocks by introducing variations and a rhythm in the folds of the roof elements to create colored modulations of light on the facades for each block. The configuration of the scheme in separate blocks identifies each of the teaching buildings, while creating visual bearings and several different viewpoints from inside the school. It also gives Rue Diderot a sensitive view of the school, integrated into an enhanced landscape of greenery. The specificity of the blocks is asserted all the more by variations in the expression and tone of the external wall finish, which create a lively modulating range of appearance on Rue Diderot. The wall finish is corrugated stainless steel cladding, polished to varying degrees, assembled in horizontal or vertical elements, and with a copper-colored finish for the general teaching blocks. All the blocks have corner windows and triple orientation provided by lateral openings onto the terraced gardens.

Photocredits – High School and Gymnasium Jean Lurcat: Mikou Studio, Florian Kleinefenn


Location: “Place d’ Italie” Paris 13
Project Type: Hotel Retail, Gaming, Pop Up Stores, Restaurant
Use of the Building: Hotel with 200 rooms, Pop-Up-Stores, coworking spaces, gaming spaces, restaurants, lounge, bars
Construction Period: 2016 ongoing project Awards/Publication: 2nd stage competition, Pavillon de l’Arsenal Exhibition

The project is located on a large public esplanade near the “Italie2” shopping center on Place d’Italie in the 13th district of Paris. In a 1970s urban environment characterized by tower blocks, the project proposes an innovative “hanging city” concept, superimposing multiple activities that project onto the street. It develops the concept of the vertical street that extends upwards, as in Hong Kong, to create an urban pulsation that will transform Avenue d’Italie and the whole identity of the neighborhood into a vibrant, lively place. Like the New Babylon conceived by Constant, a kind of “social city” that would bring people close to each other, our scheme envisions a continuous spatial construction, like an inhabited footbridge, elevated clear off the ground, offering mixed uses in a landscaped setting, and enhanced with seating overlooking the city. The concept of elevated streets leads to a multiple, multi-purpose building that offers a mix of programs – hotel, collective play areas for adults and children, creative and ephemeral “pop-up” stores, food outlets, sports activities, an elevated planted walkway, a vertical garden in continuation of public space to promote a social dynamic. The theme of play, presented in a richly varied range in our scheme, creates intergenerational synergy, promoting encounters and interaction between people of different ages and cultural backgrounds. The route within the building is itself fun: firstly, a planted panoramic stairway like a vertical garden, enhanced with seating for admiring the view of the city, then play-sculptures on a large hanging terrace facing the restaurant, and finally a folly staircase leading to an elevated walkway onto which the cultural play area and the hotel club both face. A remarkable slide chute indicates the play area and can be used by children to slide down from the terrace garden of the play area to the elevated walkway. At the end of this planted walkway, another folly staircase reconnects this route to the city street. Designed as a clustered stack of protruding and recessed modules, the hotel building looks like a cloud floating above the avenue. A unique experience is provided for Parisians, who can look down from an elevated corridor of greenery onto the fine view of Avenue d’Italie and the spectacle of bustling city life.


Fez (MOROCCO), 9th June 1970

As architects who are both Moroccan and French, growing up in Fez, then in Casablanca, we have had a profound relationship with the architectural and urban space from an early age. We are twin sisters born in Fez, an imperial city with powerful architecture, and we spent our childhood in the medina with its mazes and labyrinths, its contrasts of light and shade; This forged our sense of space. Later on, at secondary school in Casablanca, we discovered a veritable laboratory of modern architecture, with striking works by Henri Prost, Michel Ecochard, Georges Candilis, Shadrach Woods and Jean François Zevaco, who transformed Casablanca into a showcase of twentieth-century urban experimentation. Thanks to these landmark buildings, we were able to sense the capacity of modern architecture to acclimate to a specific cultural and social context, and above all its vocation to be a cultural expression at the service of society.

Strengthened by this conviction, we studied architecture in Paris at the Paris Belleville School of architecture, where we graduated in 2000. In the mid-1990s, when we were still students, we continued our research into architectural modernity and its local cultural expression through buildings by architects such as Alvar Aalto in Finland, Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz in Sweden, Alvaro Siza in Portugal and also Peter Zumthor in Switzerland. In this perspective, our degree project on reconstructing the Grand Mosque of Paris in the fifth arrondissement was the opportunity to question the modern expression of a Muslim religious edifice in Paris in the 21st century.

After graduation, our professional experience mainly took place in two great international agencies: that of Renzo Piano for Selma (from 2002 to 2005), and Jean Nouvel for Salwa (from 2001 to 2006).  These two schools of thought are as different as they are complementary.  There we learnt to value feeling and perception, the visual aspect of a building and its atmosphere on one hand, and to stick firmly to the truth of construction and the sense of proportion on the other.  In 2006 we founded our own agency, Mikou Studio, in Paris, where we continue our openness to the world and our appetite for transformation without frontiers. We are developing projects in France and also in Morocco, Hong Kong and Congo.

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