Jean Nouvel vs. Algerian Heritage



An open letter of 400 Algerian intellectuals, architects, urbanists, actors, artists and other professions living throughout the world was published in the French press. In a letter he protests against the revitalization project of Casbah d'Alger (the oldest part of the city of Algiers). The project was agreed between the Paris region and the city of Algeria. The maker of the work is the well known world and French architect Jean Nouvel.

In the history of architecture there are examples of an architect planning the whole city. From Ildefonso Cerda, Baron Hausmann, Luis Khan, Lucio Cost and Oscar Niemayer and finally Le Corbusier. Cerda has maestrally set up the urban plan, Hausmann brutally broke the Parisian yard and traced new boulders, Khan (Dacca), Costa (Brasilia) and Le Corbusier (Chandigar, Algeria) had a meadow, a taboo race, for their ideas. New cities such as New Belgrade and New Zagreb are just experiencing their Renaissance (MoMa exhibition). However, I do not know for example that an architect was given a task like this, to revitalize the oldest part of the city of Algiers, the structures of the old several centuries.

It would not be fair to judge in advance. We do not know what Nouvel's concept is. He is certainly one of the architects who do not have their "style", which could be said, for example, of Ghery. What is highlighted in the open letter is Nouvel's French origin, which is linked to the historical relations between France and Algeria. France has broken down the Algerian troop three times, among other things because of the existence of the FLN (Front of National Liberation of Algeria).

Certainly two questions are asked. First, can one person, no matter how talented and visionary, with a large number of references, alone (thinking of the entire office and outside associates) to set up rules for revitalizing a historic structure, protected by Unesco.

Second, can we overcome the historical events in which the French played a major role, rather negative than positive, especially in the eyes of Algerian.

It is not easy to answer these questions, especially when we have no indication of Nouvel's idea. What if he left the "status quo" record and with invisible well-tuned infrastructure projects, he suggested only minor types of activities of the Institute of Arab World in Paris. What if he was all based on a profound and comprehensive survey of opinion and attitudes of citizens of the province and of the entire city of Algiers.

I personally conducted two studies with a similar theme. "The City of Destruction - Zagreb, the Situation, Problems and Opportunities" (1978) and "Urbanism without urbanists - Pristina, Vranjevac and Labsko case" (1987) were parts of the city that were planned for demolition by urban plans. Only there was no deadline for that demolition in the plans. Our suggestion was to allow all residents in these areas to extend their living space to the city average. So they can wait for planned demolition. In Zagreb's example of the Vrbik settlement, across from today's Faculty of Philosophy, an impatiently large construction company immediately purchased land and demolished all the existing residential buildings and simply built on P + 4 and P + 6 on multi-storey units on the existing road network. That is a complete chaos today. In the second case, the well-known Kozari bok and Kozari paths, we have suggested for Kozari paths to only route the corridors of roads and the location for school and kindergarten and leave the rest to build their homes in Kozari Boka. It is not accepted and Kozari roads are today also a chaos of illegal construction. In the case of Pristina for two large, illegally built settlements, we have also proposed today a popular "legalization" and by the same model the continuation of the new construction along with the construction of multi-storey buildings on free parcels. It did not happen because of famous revolutionary events.

Let's get back to the Casbah. Apart from the above reasons for this and against this obviously a big role plays a financial model. Why did the city of Algiers and the Paris region (Région Ile-de-France) join? Certainly due to the resources needed for such a footprint. Neither the Algerian state nor the city of Algeria can certainly finance such a project, or such revitalization. The Paris region is far richer, and it is expected to have some other interests (engagement with civil engineering, experts and the like). It can also be assumed that the financial assistance offered by the Paris region was a prerequisite by engaging French architect. And this circle closes. It will be interesting to follow the continuation of this venture.

A group of Algerian intellectuals believes Jean Nouvel should withdraw from that agreement. For Unescov protection they think it's a little far away, and life in the sentence is something real. They are confident that they know best how to repair the existing bad state. Through this process they hope to purify the French influences that have first colonial characteristics for them.


In this dossier three letters are added:


  1. An Open Letter to Jean Nouvel

  1. Answered by Jean Nouvel

  2. Answer to the Answer by Jean Nouvel


With these three letters there are also several photos.

If you have some answers and thoughts, write to


Boško Budisavljević

Zagreb, January 21, 2019.



Financial support