Algeria’s rich history and culture have influenced many aspects of the country’s identity, including its architecture. Thus, it has given a wide diversity to the style of the exterior architecture. However, aesthetics is lacking in Algerian home exterior design nowadays in terms of dynamic happy environs, also the districts are nearly dead. According to certain researches, an architect has the potential to improve people’s well-being by improving neighborhood architectural design as professor Colin Ellard put it, “Even with a very brief exposure to one of those complex monotonous facades, the physiological signature of boredom. Boredom — whether you think it is an emotional state or not — is a harmful state of physiology.” Therefore, this interview was conducted with a few interesting fresh architects in order to learn more about the country’s architectural future. They also expressed their opinions on Algerian architecture including what led to the monotonous neighborhoods, as well as about how to enhance the quality of housing and the environment.
1. What drew you to the field of architecture?
Mohamed: Before passing my baccalaureate, I did a lot of research on the field that I should choose to study at university, I found that architecture is the field that suits me the most; especially since my childhood, I dream of creating beautiful buildings, building villages like the one I saw in the movies. In addition, architecture is a set of sciences, arts, like sociology that I like very much and arts like drawing which I was gifted since my childhood too, and it is a field of collaboration, and which touches all the other fields almost. That is a summary of my relationship with architecture.
Lia: I got my bac in 2013, I went to my friend’s sister to help me make my decisions, I told her I loved math and physics and we made choices together, architecture was my fifth choice.
2 . Can you tell us, as an architectural designer, what the relationship between beauty and architecture is?
Mohamed: So, beauty in architecture takes several definitions; it is also linked to many factors, including beliefs and traditions. Thus, to answer this question we have to go back and understand what beauty in architecture has through time. We will find several answers and several reflections, as with the Romans; for example, beauty resides in geometric order and harmony, whereas in the Japanese, it was the imitation of nature and even in China. We find that architecture has a strong relationship with religious practices and beliefs. There are several theories such as “Form follows function” which means that the form of the project is determined by the function. For others, as the architect, Mies Van Der Rohe put it “less is more” in a movement from the beginning of the 20th century, a modernist movement against the decoration of buildings as seen in old French buildings in Algeria.
In short, for me, beauty in architecture is what everyone loves because the architect remains an individual or a group who, in the mission of transforming the needs of other individuals into real projects, the Architect has a different and more precise vision of the projects and knows what others do not feel. So generally, the overall answer comes down to the audience.
Lia: Vitruvius the Roman architect, in his book “De architectura” said that a structure should have the three qualities of firmitas, utilitas, venus tas, in other words, “solidity, utility, and beauty”.
We always look for beauty and aesthetics in our designs.
3. What do architectural designers struggle with most in our country?
Mohamed: Frankly, the architect in Algeria suffers from several aspects; often begins at university during training, and then he comes up against reality, where he will not easily find his place. He finds several obstacles, including the difficulty to practice the profession, because there are no detailed laws. When it comes to building houses, most people do not go to the architect instead they build haphazardly, in the belief that they will save money, and that is certainly a misconception.
Lia: The search for a job and the fact of working on a construction site are among the obstacles that I encountered in my professional career.
4. What are your thoughts on the architecture of Algerian neighborhoods? How would you characterize Algerian house exterior design?
Mohamed: The exterior design of Algerian houses, well one of the subjects that pushed me to do architecture to prove to people that we can do better.
A subject that I approached several times until I published a 3D drawing that sums up Algerian houses; with the shape, the rough brick on the outside, and the lack of finish and it has gained great fame on social networks.
I will summarize that it revolves around people’s intellectual culture, which has been spreading for a long time due to several crises, but it has not developed and continued to take the wrong paths.
Lia: The outside of our neighborhoods, houses is an image that reflects the value of architecture in Algeria, unfortunately, it’s total anarchy for me, this is due to two major problems: ignorance of the law of urbanism for citizens and even us people in the field, and the absence of competent authorities in the implementation of laws.
5. Individuals are negatively affected by lifeless neighborhoods, streets with no beauty, green areas, or space; with damaged sidewalks, dull exterior wall paint, broken streetlights, and iron black doors, these kinds of neighborhoods are considered to affect their attitude and demeanor. What are your thoughts about that?
Mohamed: Exactly, the environment is a very important factor in creating the personality of individuals, the majority of people who have lived in dead neighborhoods in a degraded state have not succeeded in their lives, what do slums produce? Everyone knows that it produces social evils, and you know the widespread of drugs, thefts, and assaults, it is a fact that cannot be ignored and whose causes are the environment in which the person lives.
Lia: The quality of our cities, neighborhoods, and houses, both indoors and outdoors, plays a very important role in our mental health; we live better in a clean, lit neighborhood with greenery, a playground for our children, a relaxation area, a local shop, etc.
6. Algerian houses are practically like boxes next to boxes, and their “supposed to be a villa” is just another larger box with little appeal. What do you believe is the cause of such a dull design? Do Algerians genuinely hire architects? Or do they prefer to hire construction workers “for the sake of a lower price”?
Mohamed: As I have already told you, there are many beliefs and misconceptions in Algerian society, in particular building all the land and not leaving green spaces thinking that they will gain more spaces. Going to a good architect who is an expert in his trade allows you to get a house suitable for all your needs, as he can respect the amount of money you have and get a finished house. In Algeria, they often build without precise calculations and find themselves unable to complete the construction
Lia: The main reason for the mediocrity of the Algerian constructions is their owner because instead of making a well-detailed study of their house with a professional architect they prefer to minimize the costs and do the work by themselves or see a mason.
Alhamdulillah people are starting to realize the value of the architect and architecture for their home from inside and out.
7. Neighbors often tend to copy each other’s house facades. Do you believe that the owner’s mindset contributes to a repetitive approach to house-style facades?
Mohamed: Copying from the neighbor, there is a lot of copying in Algeria and it is not limited only to construction, we even notice it in projects such as commerce. This is due to the lack of confidence in new projects and engineering studies, people here believe only in what they see with their own eyes, so this subject needs the intervention of sociology to achieve accurate studies and see the causes.
Lia: I do not think it is a matter of imitation or repetition, in fact, they build without the help of the architect, they decorate the interior and they leave the exterior to time, that is the result.
8. Are architectural designers failing to be professional and creative in their work? If so, what, in your opinion, is the reason?
Mohamed: Frankly, not everyone is like that. The question begins with the university education which seems to me, open and easy, unlike the developed countries, which choose the best of those who deserve to be an architect. The field is not easy and it is one of the most difficult sectors in the world. It is strange that we find thousands of graduates each year.
In addition, the reality in which we live, most of the time does not respect the profession, there are many obstacles, and the best example I can give is the construction of AADL residential buildings, a copy that we find everywhere in Algeria, whatever the climate, the quality of the soil, the environment … etc. While in architecture and urban planning also any project must be adapted to a given society and its environment, already the architectural design depends a lot on the environment; so many architects have chosen to follow this working method without design without novelty.
Lia: Unfortunately, the architect is limited… with regard to state projects, we do not have this freedom to design what we want, we are limited by the specifications or the budget devoted to the projects.
For private projects, few people have this culture of consulting building professionals, and even if the law obliges people to go through an architect, they do not respect the study made by the architect
9. Do you think poverty and corruption are factors in Algerians’ poor architectural taste?
Mohamed: Here we are talking about poverty of thought and ideas, not poverty of money because there are inexpensive construction methods, we are talking here about architecture for the poor, by the Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy, who has proven through several projects that architecture is not just for the rich. Then, I think if I am poor, do I have to build a villa?
Lia: Yes, I add the ignorance of what the law says and the absence of authorities in implementing it
10. Another issue is that instead of renovating beautiful antique facade designs like the Chaoui or Kabyle style of architecture, some landowners or architects would demolish and replace them with the popular “Algerian modern half-finished building style” with red bricks, rusty windows, and metal black doors, making them look like institutional buildings rather than houses. Since you are an architect, what would you modify about that style of house design to make the streets more pleasant to live in?
Mohamed: A very good question, which is part of the answer to the previous question, it is to return to the old construction methods; certainly, there were no modern finishes but we can adapt them to our days, the construction stone is more comfortable, less expensive and more organic than concrete and brick.
Lia: Before demolishing any construction, an architect and civil engineer must make expertise, if the landowners decide to demolish it then it is legitimate.
What I can do as an architect is to review the architectural design of the house and the facade treatment.
11. How do you envision Algerian architecture in the next ten years?
Mohamed: 10 years in architecture is nothing, what is the difference between 10 years before and today? it is nothing then to change our habits and our way of building; it requires a revolution in all the sociological, economic, and political fields…. We must train a qualified workforce capable of carrying out all types of construction, also we must provide the modern and sophisticated building materials, as they are the basis of the developed buildings, and their absence makes our plans a mere ink on paper. Moreover, from this idea, I would say that we must open up to the world and work with global construction companies, as we can imitate successful projects. We must also work with those who made them succeed. So basically in 10 years, we’ll be here in the same spot, with the same problems and a single image, if we don’t change everything.
Lia: Sincerely I am optimistic. People began to take an interest in our field, seeking to decorate their homes well inside and out to have space for work, play, and green spaces in their homes.
They now know they have to go through an architect and an engineer, which is great for all of us. It is all thanks to social networks and our will of us, the architects, for changing the architecture of our country.
12. Is it achievable for an architectural designer in a third-world country to make the Algerian neighborhood more vibrant and visually appealing? Do you have any fresh ideas or projects that might help to make it so? Please share your thoughts with us.
Mohamed: Architecture and urban planning is a science that has existed since the existence of man; it is also constantly evolving. Therefore, if we feel like a failure we must go back to the original, Let me tell you that in architecture, you do not create new things, so to do that, you have to go back to the lab and go back to research.
Thus, the answer is, that we have to go back to those who are better than us in this area and catch up with them. Imitation is in some way an obligation for a successful project, but without copying another project as it is.
Lia: Of course, we (architects) can succeed in Algeria we can change the architecture to the best Inshallah; the potentials are there and the will is there, even the means to make a difference are within reach, it is not easy, but nothing is impossible.
Personally, I have many projects in my head Inshallah it will be easier for me to achieve them on the ground.