Study visit_ Algeria

University of Sciences and Technology Houari Boumediene (architect Oscar Niemeyer, 1974_ Bab Ezzouar, Algiers, Algeria)

After our previous study visit to Casablanca, Morocco in November/December 2015, as part of the Motel Trogir project, the following days we will be visiting Algeria, focusing on two cities- Algiers and Oran.
Our aim is to visit a number of researchers, civil organizations and institutions engaged in research and preservation of the architectural modernism, as well as those dealing with  the broader field of arts and culture.
Having witnessed numerous challenges in the historiography of architectural and wider (cultural) knowledge, the Motel Trogir project hopes to contribute to the re-shaping and forming emancipatory cultural/historical narratives in the field of “the new cultural heritage”, especially the one from the period of 1945-1990 in Europe, and from the late 1950s/early 1960s onwards, in the case of the countries of Northern Africa.
The study visit has been supported by the Kultura nova foundation/ Zaklada Kultura nova.
The study visit in Algeria was an important experience for the MOTEL TROGIR project. We organised our trip in close relation to our Algerian colleagues who helped us with valuable inputs regarding the modern (political) history of Algeria, urban planning of several Algerian cities, notable architectural concepts, contemporary city infrastructure. We are presenting here only several “episodes” of our study visit, with short descriptions and images, rather randomly, following our movement through the cities.
I

In 1930s, Le Corbusier began a series of great voyages: Moscow, Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay), Algeria in 1931, USA. From these trips, he developed experimental plans of the utopian order that will lead him to the “Plan Obus” of Algiers. Within that plan, Le Corbusier exploits the given conditions of the site, the morphology of the very steep terrain, the heights around the “Fort l’Empereur”, the Casbah (old city) and the curve of the bay. He offers a gigantic scale structure made up of very long, one-block buildings, perpendicular to the horizontal of the city, forming a kind of capes, overhung by viaducts serving for circulation. The buildings are built on stems, thus releasing the soil for circulation and development of the park.

As many critics claim, major modernists concepts such as Le Corbusier’s Plan Obus for Algiers ignored functioning housing structures or inhabitants who might have had their own logics of settlement. This abstraction of the everyday context, as an uninhabited and/or ‘uncivilized’ space is a characteristic feature of the territorial imaginations, practices and representational policies of colonial modernism (Overy 2005).

Although the “Plan Obus” was never realized, the spirit of Le Corbusier stands suspended on Telemly quartier of Algiers. The “Aero-Habitat” (1952-1955) by architects Miquel, Bourlier and Ferrer-Laloe, pupil of Le Corbusier was built according to his (Plan Obus) principles.

plan obus

aero habitat
II
Fernand Pouillon (1912-1986) is a French architect who was invited to Algiers (still under French protectorate) in the second half of the 1950s to contribute solving the housing problem for the excessive growth of the population migrating from the rural areas (forming shanty towns around the city). Pouillon answered to this task by carrying out complex experiments in the three neighborhoods on the heights of Algiers: Diar-El-Mahçoul, Diar-Es-Saada and Climat de France. First we went to CLIMAT DE FRANCE, monumental display of “two thousand houses, embarked in two hundred columns”. 
III

Social housing in Algeria in the 1950s, during the last decade of the French protectorate, became one of the burning issues. In 1954, around 30% of the Muslim population of Algeria (86 000) lived in shantytowns (fr. bidonvilles). We visited today another two housing projects by the French architect Fernand Pouillon in Algiers: Diar-El-Mahçoul and Diar-Es-Saada, situated close to each other, as well as to the Martyrs Memorial, an iconic concrete monument commemorating the Algerian war for independence.

Diar El Mahcoul was built in 18 months between 1953 and 1955. It has 1500 dwellings in buildings of different heights. The neigborhood is divided into TWO PARTS (photos below) separated by the Boulevard Oulmane Khelifa: The northern part, facing the bay of Algiers, was called “normal comfort” and was intended for the European population; The southern part, more in the background, was called “simple comfort” and was intended for the Arab population.

The accommodation of the “normal comfort” city had an independent kitchen, an entrance, a patio and a bathroom with a hoof bath, toilet and bidet. Whereas the housing of the “simple comfort” city was smaller and had only a patio without a view, a kitchenette, a Turkish toilet and a small sink.

The spatial segregation was a legacy of “the colonial apartheid regime” in the previous decades, thus the spatial organisation of the residential and urban planning projects even in the mid 1950s (just a few years before liberation of Algeria) was strictly hierarchical.

 

IV
Diar es Saâda, the “city of happiness”, is the first realization of Fernand Pouillon in Algiers. To answer the housing problems, particularly those of the Muslim population, the mayor Jacques Chevalier entrusted to Fernand Pouillon the realization of several housing estates including Diar Mahçoul, Climat de France and Diar es-Saâda. This one, “city of happiness”, was built in record time between 1953 and 1954. Designed as a “normal comfort” city for Europeans, it comprises 19 buildings with 4 to 5 levels, which are organized around a 15-storey tower.
V

The work of Oscar Niemeyer in Algeria is not very well known, although it also contributed to raising Niemeyer to the rank of the greatest architects of the 20th century.
Niemeyer was very close to Algeria, especially during the years of the president Houari Boumediene (1965-1978). It is the latter who asked the Brazilian architect to come to build in Algeria more avant-garde constructions. In an interview from 2012, Oscar Niemeyer evokes this period: “The Algerian head of state, Boumediene, wanted to meet me. We have had excellent relations. I can say today that he offered me the protection of Algeria during the whole period of my exile in Europe because of the dictatorship in my country. (…)
Niemeyer has always been very proud of his “Algerian experience” and has never masked his long-standing sympathy for the Algerian fighters during the Liberation War. 
Here we present you one of his Algerian projects which we visited- Faculté des sciences et techniques de l’université de Bab Ezzouar/ University of science and technology Houari Boumediene.

In Algeria, Oscar Niemeyer is known for his emblematic projects of a period when revolutionary utopias were combined with technological utopias. Not without a dispute, his work stays as a marker of the ideology and a politics of the time: that of a state seeking its way for its cultural and social emancipation and its economic independence.

VI

El Aurassi Hotel dominates the skyline of Algerian capital. It is situated on the top of an urbanistic accent of down town Algiers. The hotel was designed by destingusihed Italian architect Luigi Moretti (1907 – 1973) who died before the hotel was completed in 1975.

VII

La cathédrale du Sacré-Cœur d’Alger
Architects Paul Herbé and Jean Le Couteur, 1956

 

We visited two cities, Algiers and Oran, several institutions, associations and initiatives. We had meetings and city tours, presentations and conversations with architects, artists, devoted urban researchers, writers, architectural heritage promoters and keepers. We would like to thank Mr Metair Kouder and Association Bel Horizon’s members for their extraordinary hospitality in Oran, professor Nadir Djermoune for his insights and texts, Mrs Nadira Laggoune and MAMA museum, Oussama Tabti, Mourad Krinah, Amine Hattou and many others. We would also like to thank to Mr Marin Andrijašević, ambassador of the Republic of Croatia in Algeria and Mrs Sretna Marković for their kind support and enthusiasm.

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