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The Appointment of a French Architect to Renovate the Kasbah of Algiers Sowed Controversy

The appointment of a French architect to renovate the Kasbah of Algiers sowed controversy© Zohra Bensemra Source: Reuters
Alleys of the Kasbah of Algiers (illustration images).

The signing on 16 December of a Franco-Algerian partnership on the renovation of the casbah (citadel) of Algiers is controversial. If the project aroused the enthusiasm of the president of the Ile-de-France region Valérie Pécresse and her Algerian counterpart, the wali (prefect) Abdelkader Zoukh , this feeling is not unanimous on both sides of the Mediterranean. At issue: the appointment of the internationally renowned French architect Jean Nouvel, to supervise the work. In an open letter published on December 20 in Libération , more than 400 people from different backgrounds in Algeria, France or Canada, have expressed their indignation.   

The Casbah, the French have already partially destroyed it three times

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“We are very shocked when we hear that a tripartite agreement was signed between the wilaya of Algiers and the Ile-de-France Region,” write the signatories in the preamble. And to continue by invoking the development operations carried out in Algiers during the French colonial period: “The Casbah, the French have already partially destroyed it three times. Following the invasion of the Regency of Algiers in 1830, the colonial officers had already fully understood the potential danger of its insurrectional urbanism; they ordered the destruction of the entire lower part of the city, thus depriving the Kasbah of its access to the sea. Later, the colonial authorities will build Haussmann buildings there, taking up the counter-insurgency town planning tactics already applied in Paris and Marseille. At the end of the 1930s,

According to these signatories, “projects that would not be of primary interest to its inhabitants and the historical, political and cultural legacy of this city in the city, and which would prefer tourist or financial ambitions, are not worthy of this place of life and history “. Finally, they urge the French architect to withdraw and recommend to the wilaya of Algiers local architects “who will problematize this project in order to preserve the Kasbah.”

Many Algerian netizens expressed, on social networks, a similar opposition to the Franco-Algerian project to renovate the casbah. Some argued that there were Algerian architects who could lead such a project.

A silent time, the wilaya (prefecture) of Algiers has finally responded to the criticism by announcing on December 22 in a statement that the partnership in question “will [only] on the revitalization of the Kasbah of Algiers”, without providing more explanations. She further stated that “all the expenses related to the services of Jean Nouvel will be taken over entirely by the Regional Council of Ile-de-France”.

“The role of this internationally renowned architect will be to accompany the wilaya of Algiers and provide him with ideas and advice on the revitalization of the Kasbah of Algiers, declared World Heritage by UNESCO in December 1992, “she finally said.

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Written by How Africa

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