White run down building with two people walking in front of it
Cover of Colonial Modern: Aesthetics of the Past, Rebellions of the Future, edited by Tom Avermaete, Serhat Karakayali and Marion von Ostman
(Image credit: TBC)

'Colonial Modern: Aesthetics of the Past, Rebellions of the Future' is a very timely look at the impact of Western Modernist architecture on the colonial and post-colonial countries of North Africa, and one of the first attempts to untangle this complex mesh of ideology and aesthetics.

The genuine economic advantages of building in steel and reinforced concrete enabled large swathes of new housing to be built across the region. But with the whitewashed walls came some rather unsavoury presumptions, particularly the idea that the colonies were a sandbox for architectural experimentation, free from the 'heritage' concerns of the Western city. 'Colonial Africa was transformed into a laboratory for Western modernity,' writes Bernd M Scherer in his introduction, adding that these large-scale ventures in system building were subsequently re-imported back into Europe in the post-war years.

For the proponents of 'heroic' modernism, the deserts of Algeria and Morocco represented unbounded opportunity. There are plenty of striking buildings illustrated within, but their iconic time in the sun was short-lived. Now, over half a century later, the most fascinating parts of Colonial Modern are the way modernist sterility has been reappropriated and altered, a messy hierarchy of spaces that reflects the complex - and now crumbling - power structures that emerged in the post-colonial era.

Densely illustrated and impeccably researched, Colonial Modern pulls in aspects of architectural, cultural and political history to provide a fascinating look at the dangers of aesthetic imperialism.

Black and white picture of children in front of building

Inside Colonial Modern: Housing projects on the empty field of Sidi Othman in Casablanca, 1955

(Image credit: TBC)

White run down building with two people walking in front of it

Sidi Othman in 2008, with ’closed off balconies and … a park, attempting to fence off the housing complex to restrict access from the poorer districts nearby’

(Image credit: Marion von Osten)

Curved building top

Hygiene school in Oran, Hammam Bou Adjar, Algeria, by Mauri et al, Candilis, ATBAT-Afrique, 1957

(Image credit: TBC)


Maroc 54, Encyclopedie d’Outre-Mer, Special Edition 1954

(Image credit: TBC)

Black and white poster

Re-imported modernism: systems building developed in the colonies is sent back to France’s troubled banlieus.

(Image credit: TBC)

Space with blue benches

El Hank Settlement, Casablanca, built by Aroutcheff, Lucaud, Moranti, Roussseau, Zeligson (construction 1952-53)
Photograph: Marion von Osten, 2008

(Image credit: TBC)

Black and white photo of a protest

Algerians rallying in support of Angolan independence (10 February 1963, Algiers)

(Image credit: Elie Kagan)

Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.