Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Disgust at Casablanca Art Deco Demolition

In September, The View from Fez published a story on the architectural heritage of Casablanca (see the story here), where we drew attention to the fact that the city has a wealth of Mauresque and art deco buildings. Now that heritage has taken a major blow.

The beautiful Piot-Templier building
In January this year the heritage association, Casamémoire, informed us that the administrative Tribunal of Casablanca had authorised the demolition of the beautiful Piot-Templier building situated on the corner on Boulevard Mohamed V and Rue Chaouia, opposite the Marche Central. The puzzling thing about that decision was that the very same building had been placed on the Historical Monument list by the Minister of Culture.

Now comes the sad news that, despite being on the Historical Monument list, the building has been demolished.

"What is disgusting is they did this under cover of the weekend starting late on Friday - obviously as a way to create a fait accompli" - local resident
The reaction in Casablanca and beyond has been one of anger and disgust

"Destruction of the building Piot-Templar - heritage bleeding continues." - Aufait Morocco

The Piot-Templier building was constructed in 1925 by architect Pierre Ancelle and was alongside the Hotel Lincoln. It housed the well-known Templier china shop and upstairs, the famous restaurant Etoile de Marrakech.

Etoile de Marrakech before and after

Casamémoire reports that many culturally-important buildings are being destroyed to make way for yet more concrete block constructions, and they describe this is as very short-term thinking. Many Casablanca buildings have met the same fate as Piot-Templier - schools like the Ibn Tofail college, villas such as the important Villa Cadet in Oasis, and factories such as Hamelle, while others are in danger of imminent destruction.

It seems odd that on the one hand, the authorities seem to recognise the importance of the rich cultural heritage of Casablanca by deciding to retain the Bessoneau building (Hotel Lincoln) and yet on the other, approve the demolition of Piot-Templier. And all this while the application for recognition of Casablanca as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is being considered.

Casamémoire had started a petition to help save the building but alas, this has failed.

The fact that the building was demolished in spite of a stay initiated by the governor indicates that governance in Casablanca is a mess. As one local tourism operator told The View from Fez "... when things like this happen one feels helpless. Sadly, these vultures move quickly and I can only capture for you the void where once stood a lovely piece of architecture. The cronyism and corruption that permit things like this to happen has to stop".

According to Casamémoire the demolition of the Piot Templier building was..."Not so amazing if you live in Casablanca and elections are coming up - Mayor Sajid approved the destruction, which was done stealthily, beginning Friday night, in spite of a ban on demolitions in the historic district signed by the Governor of the Arrondissement. Now a six-story office building will replace some of Casa's history".

Casamémoire says such aberrations are not lacking in Casablanca! "Saving the Lincoln Hotel, which threatens to collapse at any moment and destroying an old building that was still standing, is absurd, even reckless.

"We are disappointed that the building is being destroyed, while in January, the governor had issued an order forbidding the demolition of prefectural historic buildings in the territory of the prefecture," said a Casamémoire spokesperson.

How was permission to demolish issued? It is odd, given the protection decisions given by various courts According to Abderrahim Kassou, president of Casamémoire, "Sajid has decided to allow the demolition of the building to ground floor plus one floor on behalf of the real estate company Mouyasmama. But it is not only whether the demolition is legal or not, but whether the state at large, really wants to act for the preservation and enhancement of our heritage ".


Friday - the destruction begins
Saturday morning and the top has gone
Sunday and the damage is done

a lone dancer grieves
And the protesters begin to gather
"I am stunned and saddened that Mayor Sajid has allowed this demolition even after a hold had been put in place by the Governor. I hope there will be an official explanation as to how this could be justified." -  Kathy Kriger Rick's Cafe Casablanca


Aufait Morocco's article. "Association for the Protection of the architectural heritage of the twentieth century in Morocco"

1 comment:

richard said...

As usual, protests are much too little, much too late. This comedy is a tragic symbol of the spreading malaise of modern Morocco: a greedy middle class totally lacking in taste and historical perspective; concerned only with the bank account and copying M6's latest sunglasses