Post-Independence Urban Dwellings in Algeria through an Architecture-Culture lens

  • Ania Djermouli

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Algeria, like other countries in the Middle East and North Africa region, has a long and rich history of successive civilisations that existed in those parts of the worlds for the last few millennia. Their traces are to be found in the country’s cultural heritage including its architecture. However, this rich cultural influence does not extend to architecture of the post-independence era. A survey of the architectural landscape of post 1962 would show that apart from a handful of high-profile public buildings, the kind of built environment produced since independence makes very little reference to the local cultural, historical and social context. This research is particularly interested in urban dwellings, as these form most of what has been built and as such, they are likely to have a significant impact on its architecture.

A strong body of research on the role of culture in traditional settlements is to be found in the form of a number of studies on examples of dwellings in urban centres such as old Medinas and the K’sour of the M’Zab region. However, published work on the role of this cultural heritage in informing the design and planning of contemporary urban dwellings is limited. More importantly, little research is to be found, where the views of the stakeholders
concerned with this housing typology in Algeria were taken into

This research project seeks to explore the primary question of how socio-cultural factors can inform the way we design urban dwellings in Algeria. The introductory chapter of the thesis sets out the scene by identifying the research problem as described in the main question and elucidate this further by asking a number of secondary questions that are used to frame the debate.

This research is undertaken using two different but complimentary approaches. On the one hand, the theoretical concepts that underpin the culture – architecture relationship in the context of the region in general and Algeria in particular, are reviewed and discussed in the two literature review chapters. On the other hand, primary research is carried out using a combination of fieldwork (interviews, observations, etc.) and case studies analysis, as described in the Research Methodology chapter. The research made use of semistructured interviews with Twenty-Seven participants, namely dwellers, designers, decision makers and academics. Their views on urban dwellings as processes of both spatial production and spatial practices will help identify some of the issues relating to cultural relevance in the design of this architectural typology. The data collection process starts with the case studies in Chapter 5 and continues with the fieldwork in Chapter 6, where a full description of the methods, processes and techniques used to gather field data is given. The data analysis is presented in Chapter 7 where the main outcomes of the interviews and observations are discussed under a
number of themes that came out of the analysis. Chapter 8 provides a discussion of the issues raised by the research questions and describes how these were addressed in a way that offers a better understanding of the barriers to culturally conscious architecture in the post-independence urban centres through. The research has led to identifying a number of issues that have shed some light on the current failures that Algerian cities experience with regard to lack of identity and the production of an urban architecture that seems distant from its socio-cultural context. Among these issues, the research has identified a number of barriers to culturally conscious
architecture in the post-independence era. The research has also
highlighted some socio-cultural factors that affect the spatial
experience of city dwellers and yet the design of urban settlements does not, yet, seem to address. The findings of the research have also indicated that where the community has been involved in the production of the urban dwellings, as is the case of the new K’sour in the M’Zab Valley, the resulting urban settlements offer better living conditions for the dwellers.

It is hoped that these findings are likely to lead to; (a) a greater awareness of the importance of culture among decision makers, designers, academics and dwellers, (b) a contribution to the debate on the ways culturally relevant architecture and place making practices could positively impact both the quality of the built environment in general and urban dwellings in particular as well as dwellers’ experience of city life.
Date of AwardFeb 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorH. Bougdah (Supervisor)

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