September 17 2013

Should Casablanca’s Colonial Heritage Be Preserved?

Casablanca is Morocco’s largest city; but unlike the rest of the country’s major cities that were founded between the seventh and fifteenth centuries, Casablanca’s history is quite recent.

Casablanca was one of five new planned cities in Morocco after the establishment of the French protectorate in 1912. This political decision aimed at the creation of modern urban centers neighboring the walled medieval Moroccan cities. Henri Prost, a French architect and urban planner, was appointed as the head of a new agency in charge of the development of the new cities. In 1915, Prost presented the first development plan for Casablanca. His work became a reference for urban planning and development in France post World War I.

Casablanca impressions

The new city became a hub for renowned European architects. Casablanca was an open experimentation field with no restrictions or aesthetic constraints. The city hosts the biggest concentration to date of juxtaposed Neo-Classic, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Neo-Moorish and modern structures, and is considered a live reference in architecture history.

Immeule du Grand Socco

But how do Moroccans view this significant architectural asset?

Casablanca’s particular history creates a controversial debate on whether its colonial architecture and urban environment should be preserved as part of Moroccan heritage. The debate was started by a small group of Casablanca residents, who in 1995 created an association called Casamémoire to advocate for the preservation and classification of the city center’s buildings on the national list of historic buildings and sites. The classification will protect these buildings from speculator greed in a city where developable land is scarce.

Casablanca impressions

However, local authorities do not consider the preservation of colonial architecture as a priority. To date, only forty-nine buildings are listed and many others are simply torn down as a measure of security (due to their defective structure) or to make space for new developments. The story of the Lincoln Hotel, an abandoned 1916 Neo-Moorish building, is illustrative of this ambient negligence.

Amidst this situation, Casamémoire organizes informative interactive tours, events and manifestations where Casablanca residents are invited to discover their city.Les journées du patrimoine” (heritage days), a three-day event of free guided tours, is now an annual tradition. The association has also published a guide featuring Casablanca’s different architectural styles and historical layers.

Socifrance, Place des Nations Unies

More and more people from Casablanca are becoming aware of the quality of their architectural environment; but more political engagement is needed. A new development plan that turned Casablanca’s center main street into a pedestrian-friendly one and introduced a streetcar platform has given buildings on this street a new lift, as many owners engaged in a façade restoration program prescribed by the new plan. Modern architecture lovers are, however, waiting for more structural decisions and actions that will grant a better future to these buildings.

Would you consider a colonial heritage part of your history? Are there any controversial historic preservation debates in your community?

Credits: Images by Aicha El Beloui and Carola Bieniek. Data linked to sources.

Sarah Essbai

Sarah Essbai graduated in 2013 with a Master of Urban and Regional Planning from Ball State University in Indiana where she pursued her studies as a Fulbright scholar. Prior to moving to the US, Sarah obtained her Diplome d’Architecte from the Ecole Nationale d’Architecture in Rabat, Morocco. In Morocco, Sarah worked on the development of a green lodging facility in the Moroccan desert as well as the historic rehabilitation of the historic center of Fez, her hometown. Sarah’s interests include affordable housing, which was the subject of her master’s thesis, community development, real estate crowdfunding and social design. She believes that within these topics, sustainability should be inherent and should be a necessary component of every design project and development.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 17th, 2013 at 9:30 am and is filed under Architecture, Environmental Design, Government/Politics, History/Preservation, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


9 Responses to “Should Casablanca’s Colonial Heritage Be Preserved?”

  1. Reda Says:

    I don t think Moroccans have a problem with any controversial historic issues. The French brought modernity and urbanism to Morocco and noboby can deny this. The Moroccans have problems with loving themselves, finding an identity and stop suffering from a deep inferiority complex. It s one the causes for this lack of respect for their historical colonial heritage.

  2. Sarah Essbai Says:

    Thanks for your comment Reda!
    Morocco like most countries in the Mediterranean area has accumulated layers of history that enrich its culture and which are the base of its current state of diversity. Invasions and colonization are part of this history whether we like it or not.
    Finding an identity has been always a work in progress for everyone living on this planet, in fact I don’t think that there is a unique identity; there are identities that need to be explored and embraced.
    Through centuries Moroccans have forged unique “identities” and I don’t think that there is a shame in continuing the exploration. The real challenge is to come together, despite our differences to work towards a better future.

  3. | Featured images: Casablancan architecture (on Says:

    […] I had uploaded to Flickr for a blog post she was working on. Of course I said yes. And now the post is live on environmental design website In ‘Should Casablanca’s Colonial Heritage Be Preserved?’ Sarah describes the unique […]

  4. Sarah Essbai Says:

    Thank you for sharing Carola!

  5. Guilherme Fonseca Says:

    Hello, I’m landscape architect and i’m writing about the urban trees in Casablanca. Is there any plans, book’s or any kind of information about the trees that have been planted over the years in the streets of Casablanca?


  6. Sarah Essbai Says:

    Hi Guilherme,
    My apologies for the (very) late reply.
    I unfortunately don’t know of any study or research that has been done on the topic.
    You might want to get in touch with the Municipality of Casablanca that would have certainly have the information. This will be easier if you are already in Casablanca.
    Best wishes,

  7. Bilder im Fokus: Die Architektur Casablancas (auf – auf deutsch Says:

    […] nutzen dürfe, an dem sie gerade arbeite. Natürlich sagte ich ja. Nun ist der Beitrag auf der Umwelt und Design-Website erschienen. In ‘Should Casablanca’s Colonial Heritage Be Preserved?’ (Sollte […]

  8. Hanaa Says:

    Hello Sarah,
    I am trying to write my dissertation around this matter or casablanca’s heritage.. and whether is relevant or no to the next generations to see and admire one of the first forms of modernisation left by the french colonisers..
    Im also concerned whether you know who’s responsible for the maintenance and concervation of those buildings.
    thanks in advance for your answer.. and i’m open to any suggestions about books that you can advise to enrich my knowledge about the subject.

  9. Sarah Essbai Says:

    Hello Hanaa,
    My apologies for my late reply.
    One place to start when researching colonial heritage in Casablanca is Casamemoire. Since they have been monitoring the evolution of colonial buildings conservation in Casablanca, they would have the most recent information.
    Another place to look would be Casablanca’s “Agence Urbaine”.
    “Casablanca: Mythes et figures d’une aventure urbaine” is a good reference compiling great literature and pictures of colonial architecture in Casablanca. The book is available in both French and English.
    I hope this helps!
    All the best

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