An Arabo-Moorish architecture in Algiers, Algeria

Many have decried the mediocrity of Algeria’s urban landscape. However, for some time there has seemed to be a renewed interest in architectural aesthetics, and for façades in particular. These façades attempt to outdo each other in terms of eclectic, and sometimes ostentatious, displays of adornment. They also use diverse, varied materials that are becoming more and more common on the national market.

Given that façades are the first elements of a building that we encounter, they are given special attention. They are an eye-catching element that is meant to be looked at. That may explain why in recent years newly constructed buildings in Algeria, whether public or private, display an aesthetic that results in a juxtaposition of all architectural styles. For example, on a single main road you can easily pass by Arabo-Moorish arches and Neoclassical columns and pediments, while also encountering imposing multi-colored glass panels made in a modern style. Indeed, a multitude of coverings, sidings, and other pre-fabricated elements, whether imported or local, make it possible to outfit façades with occasionally outrageous cosmetic coverings.

A view overlooking Algiers, Algeria

It seems that any deliberation about building is most often concentrated on volume and ornamentation without worrying about the built environment. It is as if projects are considered to be isolated in the space they inhabit. The urban dimension becomes secondary, if it is not overshadowed completely. Projects happen as if it were enough to juxtapose beautiful façades that ignore each other in order to add to the built environment and to the city’s urban development (With beauty being a relative and subjective term). With this approach, we risk falling into another form of urban mediocrity: one in which an architectural disorder of diverse forms and sometimes costly materials replaces harmony based upon the relationships between the different buildings that make up an urban entity. It is enough to visit the few popular ksour sites that are well preserved, such as in the M’zab Valley for example, to be convinced of this truth.

Several pioneering architects such as André Ravereau, Hassan Fathy, and Jean-Jacques Deluz dedicated their lives to trying to pass on another way of conceptualizing architecture. They reminded us that the right amount, the right balance, simplicity, and respect for places and socio-environmental conditions are also important criteria for an architectural or urban project. In his book Alger: chronique urbaine (2007), Jean-Jacques Deluz rightly noted that “every problem in architectural composition is a matter of relation and proportions. The rest is of secondary importance; it is decoration. [...] Harmony is essential, decoration is secondary.”

The question of harmony arises when we realize that an urban building cannot be understood by itself, it is part of a whole. It exists along with a street, a neighborhood, and a piece of a city, which it must integrate itself into as best as possible in order to attempt to preserve or strengthen the unity of the whole. The result is a move towards a harmonious composition of urban space.

Can architectural juxtaposition have aesthetic value, or does it always obscure the rest of the urban environment?

Original article, originally published in French, here.

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.