"The Prince of Casablanca": Moroccan architect Alaa Halifi, the voice of an entire generation

A new issue of the cultural magazine “Aramco world” has just been published in Houston, Texas, offering readers many topics dealing with new Arab cultures and voices emerging globally, as well as an article/portrait titled ‘The Prince of Casablanca’, by American journalist and researcher Ken Chitwood highlighting the work of the author and the Moroccan architect Alaa Halifi, in connection with his hometown Casablanca.

Romanticized by Hollywood and celebrated by colonial architects as a laboratory for architectural experimentation in the 20e century, Casablanca or simply “Casa”, is a conglomeration of chaos and contradictions, heritage and kitsch, a city brutal and beautiful, disturbing and inviting, ephemeral and enduring.

It is a city of fusion of past, present and future, of Moroccan heritage and European modernism. But it is also a city where Alaa Halifi, author and architect from Casablanca, walks the streets, both with the eye of a stroller, but also with the eye of a critic…

The city of Casablanca is the protagonist of his first opus, “Praise of Madness”, which was the first Moroccan book to win the international prize “Al-Rafidain First Book Awards” in Lebanon. According to the jury, the power of the book lies in its strong ability to “dive deep into the worlds of Casablanca”. The book thus reflects the complex nature of the city, and sheds light on its neighborhoods and its marginal characters. It is against a backdrop of a marvelous fusion of reality and fantasy that Halifi presents a vision of the city as it is, but also as it could be.

The Armaco world article points out that it is thanks to his realistic work as an architect and fictionalist as a writer, Alaa Halifi, has been distinguished in both of his fields with works centered mainly on his hometown.

Alaa Halifi’s vision finds continuity in his work as an architect, in 2020 he was crowned with an international architecture prize in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the United States, after having proposed, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic 19, to reuse Casablanca’s old buses as a mobile health system that travels through the different neighborhoods of the city, passing through marginalized and excluded slums, with the aim of providing tests and vaccinations against the coronavirus. The international jury, made up of architects, urban planners and academics, hailed the project as being well thought out and designed and responds to health equity and an immediate need.

For me, a real architecture reflects the soul of its society. Unlike other forms of art, architecture has the power to solve the concrete and real problems of societysays Halifi.

In this regard, Halifi’s architectural designs have emerged, like his writings, on the basis of courageous decisions and radical choices that reinvent the constants, such as the project that was a finalist in the international architecture competition LafargeHolcim Awards 2020–2021, proposing the transformation of one of the city’s slums into a green urban lung, while other projects considered opening part of the city’s harbor to the public as an interactive outdoor educational museum, or transforming the abandoned Ghbila prison in Derb Sultan into a place of freedom of expression.

All of these projects, says Halifi, are a way to reuse missed opportunities, abandoned buildings and forgotten places in Casablanca, to create something new with what remains of our past.

Halifi’s work reflects the voice of a generation of young Casaouis, whom he explains has been excluded from discussions and perceptions about the city and its future.

Without art or concrete forms of expression, we will be forgotten. Instagram posts and TikTok videos are not enough to make our voice heard“, deplores the architect. ” So I write, I design and I dream of a world that could be, in the middle of the one that is“, he adds.

In Boulevard El Fida, Derb sultan, Halifi points her finger at the abandoned theaters and cinemas that used to screen all types of films in their glorious years, they are all forgotten today… He continues by talking to local residents, eating tuna sandwiches on Sidi Maarouf Square in Derb El Foukara, or strolling with his clique under the shade of the eucalyptus trees in Hermitage Park, passing from the minaret to raw concrete of the Assounna brutalist mosque on avenue 2 mars, designed by the architect Jean-François Zevaco, one of the famous figures of modern Moroccan architecture…

Halifi has always lived in Derb Sultan, one of Casablanca’s legendary and oldest neighborhoods. For him, this district represents the real casablanca“… It is in this neighborhood that Halifi got to know her city, story by story, character by character.

A lot of people don’t like Casa“, indicates the young author, because it is a kind of “ monster city“, but as for the architect, he is proud of his city, and always will be. ” I can’t leave Casa, but if I do, she’ll never leave me“, he says. Alaa Halifi calls Casablanca her prison and her muse, or in other words, Casablanca is her “Shawshank” in reference to the famous 1994 film “The Shawshank Redemption”, starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins as two men who find comfort amidst the indecency of prison.

LPeople who don’t know Casablanca can discover the city, its cafes, its characters, and its forgotten places through my work, but at the same time, we can’t know where reality ends and where fiction begins, because there is Casablanca where I live, but also, Casablanca, the fictional city that lives in me” , did he declare.

Previous Post Next Post