May 16th 2023

A Slice of Mies in Casablanca: Alumna Mixes Chicago and Morocco in Historic City

Sophia Sebti (B.ARCH ’05) had two goals after graduating high school in Morocco: go to a university in the United States, and become an architect.

Sebti started her journey at City College of San Francisco, taking a few classes in architecture while adjusting to a new culture. “The instructor had us search for ‘less is more’ examples,” Sebti said. “That’s how I found out about Mies, S. R. Crown Hall, and Chicago.”

Sebti soon visited Chicago and IIT College of Architecture, and knew it was a perfect fit within hours. “I knew I would stay when a cab driver was talking about architecture as we were traveling through the city.”

During her six years in Chicago, Sebti earned a Bachelor of Architecture at the college and worked at Studio Gang, where she assisted on what would become Aqua Tower.

Sebti returned to her hometown of Casablanca in 2006 and worked at a few local offices to gain local experience before founding her own firm, Sophia Sebti Architecte + 212/Conception, in 2009. She finds the city perfect for her small firm, as Casablanca is large enough to accept new design ideas, but is not saturated with architectural firms (the entire country of Morocco has only 4,000 licensed architects to serve a population of 36 million people). Illinois has about as many architects for a population that’s one-third the size.

“Architects are prone to open their office very early in their career in Morocco; even more so in Casablanca, as it is the economic capital and construction is at its peak,” Sebti says.

Her office, of less than a dozen, works on everything from houses to restaurants. While Miesian inspiration is visible in the work, Sebti’s studio brings its own ideas as well. Many architects in Morocco, including several working with Sebti, received their education in Paris. A native Californian-Iranian working at the firm brings an American West Coast mentality, and of course, Sebti brings the influence of Chicago.

“It’s great to have three ways of thinking: Moroccan, French, and American. It adds a lot to our projects. We aim at gathering more architects from various cultural backgrounds to respond as precisely as possible to projects in the most panoramic ways. The projects need to be designed to reflect the architecture of today in modern Morocco,” Sebti says.

The blend of creativity and cultures separates the firm’s projects from others in Casablanca, Septi believes, while honoring the historic soul of Morocco—its medinas, the centuries-old heart of a city, usually walled with narrow streets. “Trades like plasterwork, cedar woodwork, zellige tilework (mosaic terracotta) are definitely a source of daily inspiration. As architects of the twenty-first century, we are to rethink and use this unique craftsmanship in today's projects.”