«Maybe for the first time in the modern era we had men inhabit a monument. Those men, the poorest ones of poor Algeria, understood that: it was them who named the large square ‘The Two Hundred Columns’»
The production of French architect Fernand Pouillon in Algiers is extensive and renowned (he was chief architect of the city for several years) but among the many housing projects he built in the Algerian capital, one stands out as the most remarkable, the “Climat de France” complex, called “Oued Koriche”, after the end of the French colonization.
This dense neighborhood concentrates about 6,000 housing units on an area of 30 hectares and is conceived as an island surrounded by three major roads, an autonomous development which includes in itself all the features of a city in the monumentality of a fortress.
The “Climat de France“, located on the west of the Casbah, is composed by structures different in size and shapes, carefully arranged one with the others and in relationship with the sloped site to best enhance the perspectives towards the sea. The course of Avenue Ahsan, on the lowest area on the northern boundary, suggested the shape of the curvilinear building at the foot of the hill. Going up one can find a series of blocks grouped in four types: linear buildings, volumes with interior courtyards, a group of blocks linked to each other, and single towers. The complex culminate its richness of volumes and typologies with the main building, located on a terraced area of the slope. This four story rectangular slab is articulated around a central 233 meters long and 38 meters wide “maidan” (main square). The block goes by the name “200 columns”, for the three story-high arcades surrounding the central space. Its monumental hypostyle hall-like entrances are located on the two transversal sides while smaller gates traverse the long sides rejoining the view through the sea and connecting the building to the slope through massive stairways. The complex not only hosted apartments, but 200 shops and health and education services in order to make this settlement “absolutely autonomous”.
The different volumes are all regularly shaped with strong edges and rigorous proportions. Small modular openings, windows and airing holes, pierce the different buildings underlining the effect of masses as do the material choices (mostly bricks and stones). On the ground floors are a series of rectilinear arcades which accompany the multiple sequence of narrow pathways connecting the complex. The same regularity is employed for the openings surrounding the roof terraces. The architectural language, which deals with a scarcity of means, is austere and rich at the same time, with numerous combinations of simple and strong patterns.
A specific quality is given to the complex sequence of public spaces which are declined in an extensive number of typologies with different morphologies: squares, gardens, courtyards, boulevards, stepped pathways all interconnected to produce a continuous network through the neighborhood. As a logical consequence of the almost sculptural conception of the architectural masses, the thickness of the envelope is employed to carve out intermediate spaces, as loggias, arcades and stairwells.
The monumentality of the complex, aiming to interpret a classical order, is obtained by carefully proportioned spatial devices which echo different architectural languages but end up being a coherent, identitarian system. This monumentality, in the aim of Pouillon, has a specific, ideological meaning: elevate the image of housing buildings destined to the poorest population groups of Alger. As quoted from Zeynep Çelik, in his Urban Forms and Colonial Confrontations, Algiers under French Rule, (F. Pouillon), “in tune with Mayor Chevallier’s paternalistic benevolence, aimed at engraving a sense of pride in the residents”.
Today’s conditions of the complex show saturated spaces and a deeply degraded image. On the terraced roof of the “200 columns” building an informal shanty town is implanted and the arcades are now coupled with satellite dishes.
Housing the Algerians: Grands Ensembles, in: Urban Forms and Colonial Confrontations Algiers under French Rule, by Zeynep Çelik [UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS Berkeley · Los Angeles · Oxford © 1997 The Regents of the University of California] (full text and illustrations available)
“Climat de France”, by Tom Avermaete, in OASE #74 (Invention) (downloadable PDF)
Le mal logement: une plaie algérienne (article in french on the shortage of housing in Algeria and the contemporary conditions of the Climat de France)
From Fernand Pouillon’s site:
Article from Le Monde (credits: Julien Daniel/MYOP pour Le Monde)
3d model reconstruction + plans and elevations:
From Adam Caruso studio at the ETH, Zürich