Category Archives: architecture

Casa Negra

I once asked a friend what the movie CasaNegra (2008) was about. “It’s about what life’s really like in Casablanca,” he said, darkly.

A few other friends told me they hadn’t seen it: “I heard it’s very vulgar so I’ve stayed away.”

Mostly, I hear rave reviews because, honestly? This. Movie. Is. Epic.

The idea behind the film is that for the working class and those living in the city’s underbelly, Casablanca is so hopeless, so dark, and so literally and morally polluted that it should be called Casanegra

The movie is set mostly in the centreville, which is incidentally right around where I live. This used to be the commercial center of town, and it’s filled with very cool and beautiful architecture dating back to early to mid-twentieth century. In fact much of the movie is shot in and around the Assayag, an architecturally innovative building dating back to 1929 where the offices of Casamémoire are now located.

Check out the beautiful opening shots. Very Noir, heh.

Casanegra tells the story of a couple of friends, Casaoui guys trying to make it as small-time crooks. The characters are tragic, spinning their wheels and basically powerless to improve their situation. One of the main characters, Adil, dreams of immigrating to Sweden. The other, Karim, admires an upper-class woman from afar. Each character has something they cling to for their sanity. An evil gangster for instance, the kind of guy who threatens to drill holes into people’s knees, loves his little dog above anything.

One by one the characters fall apart as they realize that their dreams are unattainable and the bits of hope they cling to, fragile. At the end of the preview, the evil gangster, who’s just lost a ton of money and crashed his car, cries out the name of his dog: Nicooooooooo!

Despite the tragic and dark take on life in Casablanca, the movie is hilarious and redeeming.

Casanegra presents a bleak portrait of Casablanca, but the frustration of the characters and their hatred for the city are folded into what is basically an homage. Casablanca is harsh, but it’s home. It’s ugly, but beautiful. It’s urban grit–dangerous and tragic yet glamorous, even epic.


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Filed under architecture, Casablanca, Moroccan fiction, Uncategorized, urban life, Urban Morocco

Downtown Casa by night

Je me suis inspirée d’une vidéo du photographe québécois Dominic Boudreault, qui montre des images de villes nord-américaines, et j’ai voulu partager cette photo.

C’est une pose de 8 secondes prise par mon amie Jeannette. Le dernier soir de sa visite au Maroc, on s’est pris un verre en haut de la tour de l’Hotel Kenzi (une des tours du Twin Center). Du matin au soir, on peut commander un café, un verre, ou un repas hors prix histoire de profiter de la vue panoramique de la ville. (La bannière de Petit à Petit vient d’une photo que j’avais prise du haut de la tour Kenzi.) On trouve exactement la même combine en haut de la tour John Hancock à Chicago.

Il faut dire que si je m’intéresse aux différentes conceptions de l’urbanité autour du monde, je suis au fond une nord-américaine urbaine qui s’attache aux gratte-ciels et qui se retrouve émue face aux perspectives dramatiques des centrevilles verticaux.

I was inspired by the work of Quebecois motion photographer Dominic Boudreault‘s timelapse video of North American city skylines to post this picture.

It’s an 8-second exposure taken by a dear friend, Jeannette. On the last night of her visit to Morocco we had a drink at the top of the Kenzi Tower hotel (one of the towers of the Twin Center). Day or night, one can order extremely overpriced coffee, drinks, or even meals for the privilege of enjoying a panoramic view of the city. Exactly like the Signature Room at the top of the John Hancock in Chicago. (The banner of Petit à Petit is from a picture I took from the Kenzi Tower restaurant.)

Although I love to explore different conceptions of “the city,” I am at heart a North-American urbanite with an emotional attachment to skyscrapers and the dramatic views of those dense, high-reaching skylines.

The video in question features amazing views of Montreal, Chicago, Toronto, and Québec.

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Filed under American culture, architecture, Canada, Casablanca, Chicago, urban life

Patrimoine! (follow-up)

A couple of weekends ago I took part in the Journées du Patrimoine de Casablanca and I’m due for an update on that.

First, some numbers:
150 volunteers helped to organize and carry out free architectural/historical tours of 15 Casablanca landmarks. Over a couple of days, 10,000 visitors took part in the tours, including 2,500 schoolchildren from all over the city. Tours were available in a few languages, most readily in French and Arabic.

The stated purpose of this event is to raise awareness among Casaouis about the city’s architectural heritage. The goal was to target people who live in the city, those who are most affected and who might, down the road, contribute to the cause of historic preservation. We were asked not to distribute too many flyers to tourists, who aren’t likely to become advocates.

In reality, it was observed by volunteers at various sites that many participants were tourists, or temporary residents. Foreigners, in other words. In an earlier post about the tours a friend and I debated back and forth in the comments about the supposed “Europeanness” of Casamémoire, which might account for a lack of interest among Moroccans.

The Moroccans who did go on our tours, ironically, would often comment on the fact that “Moroccans aren’t interested” in architecture, or in the built environment generally.

Yet, most volunteers were Moroccan and, significantly, did not appear to all belong to the Casa elite.

At the marché central, where I was giving tours with a handful of other volunteers, passers-by would ask to see our flyers. Many were curious, but having come to the market to do their shopping, were all business. Some hadn’t heard about the event, despite the association’s media outreach. A few people stopped by for a moment to chat with volunteers about the event and the association’s work, even if they didn’t take part in the tours. Many commented on how sad it is to see the ruins of the Hotel Lincoln, a registered architectural landmark across the street from the market.

On a more personal level, I got to become a low-level “expert” on the marché, spend a weekend with interesting people, and make friends with a few vendors in the market who saw me and the other volunteers come by every few minutes.

Coming up next: a virtual tour of the marché central.

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Proud as a…


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ongoing: Journées du Patrimoine de Casablanca

À ne pas rater! Venez nombreux et profitez ce week-end des visites guidées offertes GRATUITEMENT par les bénévoles de Casamémoire, 11h-13h, 14h30-17. Certains sites—Tribunal, la Wilaya—sont ouverts exceptionnellement pour cette occasion !
(Je serais au Marché Central à partir de 14h30)

Don’t miss this chance to take advantage of the FREE tours given by the volunteers of Casamémoire, 11AM-1PM, 2:30-5PM. Some sites–the courthouse, the Wilaya–are open to the public specially for this event!
(I’ll be at the Marché Central starting at 2:30PM)

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Learning, and teaching, the “Patrimoine” of Casablanca

I’ve hinted before at the tension that surrounds narratives of Casablanca history. During a tour I took recently through Casamémoire, a French man who’s lived here for years and wrote a book on the history of the medina, concluded his lectures with: “Je suis désolé pour nos amis marocains, mais Casablanca est essentiellement une ville européenne.” (“Sorry for our Moroccan friends, but Casablanca is essentially a European city.”)

That’s actually a much subtler claim than it sounds, but it points at the politics lurking behind every conversation about the “patrimoine” of modern Casablanca. Who created it? Who does it belong to? Who even cares?

Casamémoire is the only association that advocates for historic preservation in Casablanca. This year they’re organizing the third annual Journées du Patrimoine de Casablanca, in partnership with a few other sponsors like the city and Institut Francais. For three days the association will offer tours of historic sites in the centreville, the medina, and Habbous.

Hundreds of people are expected to take advantage of these free tours, which are guided entirely by volunteers. Regular tours are given by volunteer expects in architecture and urban planning—not your average architecture amateur or Casaphile. The Journées du Patrimoine offers us amateurs a chance to take a crash course in Casablanca history and share our newfound expertise with other curious people.

The tours don’t focus purely on architecture, but rather “patrimoine” in a broader sense. Now here’s a word that carries a lot of weight in French. Its English translation, “heritage,” just doesn’t measure up. Patrimoine is synonymous with “culture,” and implies an extremely high value for local and national identity. It simultaneously represents and defines the shared cultural heritage of a community, which is why it turns out to be a slippery term.

I’ve been attending training sessions to be a guide, and I’ve been pleased to find that although there are a good number of French expatriates interested in the architectural heritage of the city, the vast majority of trainees are Moroccan. Some people who have been living in Casablanca remarked that they had never before explored these neighborhoods, and found themselves discovering parts of the city as tourists.

For my part it was refreshing to be part of a group of mostly Moroccan visitors. If you’ve seen some of the millions of tourists coming through Morocco, it’s easy to forget that many Moroccans themselves travel, explore the country, and are passionate about Moroccan culture and history.

After our tour of the medina, I walked back to my neighborhood with two other students who were also training to be guides. We walked through the centreville, which is rich with Art Deco architecture, and chatted while pointing out the details on buildings that the women admitted they had never really noticed before. They saw in the Casamémoire training a chance to learn and meet interesting people, though they’d never before had a particular interest in architecture or urban planning.

Thanks in large part to a retired English teacher-turned-guide named Abdou, the visits took place in an atmosphere of discovery, fun, and connection with students, professionals, retirees, working class people and upper class people. It was Abdou’s idea, for instance, to all have tea at the end of each tour, introduce ourselves, and…sing songs. (Yes, our group gelled that well.)

To be continued… La Journée du Patrimoine will be held April 14th, 15th, and 16th. For those of you living in Casablanca, on Saturday and Sunday you should be able to show up at a number of sites and get tours. I’ll update when I have the complete list. I will be at the Marché Central.


Filed under architecture, Casablanca, colonialism, Moroccan History, Uncategorized, Urban Morocco


This apartment building caught my eye during a walk with a couple of classmates last week. We were in the quartier populaire (working class neighborhood) of Hay Sadri, not far from Ben Msik where we study. Most apartment buildings are painted either white or some light, warm color like yellow or orange.

Remarked my friend Zainab: “Individualism!”

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