05/25: Indigenous House

In 1930 the French government celebrated the French Algerian Centennial, marking 100 years of colonial occupation. As part of the event, architect Leon Claro designed the Indigenous House of the Centennial based on a standardized version of the courtyard house found in the Casbah of Algiers. This description is from Dr. Zeynep Celik from her book Urban Forms and Colonial Confrontations:

“Architectural and aesthetic appeal of the houses in the casbah had already been highlighted during the centennial celebrations of the French occupation. Following the lead of ethnographic research but focusing on the urban type, a model house was built at the intersection of the Boulevard de la Victoire and Rue de la Casbah, near the citadel, to “convey to tourists an idea of the habitation of Arabs in Algiers.” Léon Claro, the architect in charge, designed the Indigenous House of the Centennial (maison indigène ducentenaire ) as a two-story structure in the middle of the irregular lot and surrounded it with gardens behind high walls and a row of shops facing the Rue de la Casbah, to incorporate a trace of the souks (Figs. 47 and 48). He replicated the colonnaded courtyard, organized the main spaces around it, separated men’s and women’s quarters and gardens, and mimicked all the elements of the “traditional” house. Details and ornamentation, realized with the help of old materials and fragments gathered from the casbah, accentuated the aura of authenticity. The architect’s concern for authenticity was reflected in his drawings of details of the building considered especially significant. Belonging more to the architecture of world’s fairs than to Algiers, this building formed an uneasy relationship with the casbah. Its location at the edge of the casbah signified its ties to the old city, but the unusual circumstances of its creation alienated it from its sociocultural context. The Indigenous House of the Centennial was a sanitized summary of the architecture of the casbah, intended for outsiders and accessible without necessitating contact with indigenous neighborhoods.”

Two images accompany the prior description, one a photograph of the exterior of the house and one a series of drawings from the architect.

picture drawings

I had the opportunity to visit this house last May, as it is still part of the tours of the Casbah. Now it is a preserved and protected part of the architectural history of the area.

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