Built in 1922 the slaughterhouse of Casablanca was at the time one of the most modern and massive industrial buildings in Morocco. Now a citizen-led project called Cultural Fabric is struggling to promote new ways to use and save this building from destruction.
The slaughterhouse is located in Hay Mohammadi, a popular district near the train station of Casa-harbour, which was at the time the East edge of Casablanca. Now with the growing population (100,000 habitants in 1920, when the slaughterhouse was built, Casablanca now has over 3.3 million!) what was an unattractive industrial district at the time is now a booming development location, attractive for investors because of being next to the train station.
The slaughterhouses are an example of the first use of reinforced concrete. Designed by two Parisian architects, Albert Greslin & Georges-Ernest Desmarest, it is a perfect blend of Art-Déco and Moorish Revival architecture. Several buildings sit on a 5 hectares site.
Active until 2000, the slaughterhouses were shut down in 2002 because of the advanced age of the building and that it did not ahear to the security needs any more. The building is classified in the list of the historical buildings of the city in 2003, but no investment is made to stop its deterioration.
Some local and international artists such as French artist George Rousse acknowledged the potential of the reimagining of Casablanca’s slaughterhouse. Local associations, skaters and artists started using the building and it became a place for expression and artistic creation. “Because in a metropolis of more than 5 million inhabitants (including the suburbs), there is not one place like this for opened artistic expression” as recounts Aadel Essaadani, member of the association Racines, dedicated to cultural development in Morocco in an interview given here (in French).
Painting installation by French artist Georges Rousse – portfolio of the Slaughterhouse serie here
In 2008 following a think-thank between the cities of Casablanca and Amsterdam, the decision was made to turn the Slaughterhouse into an alternative cultural place. The City Council of Casablanca, owner of the place, signed a one year lease with the association CasaMémoire, which acts for the preservation of Casablanca modern architectural heritage. In 2009 a 3-day inaugural party showcased more than 200 artists and welcomed more than 30,000 visitors: it was a hit!
The venue started being a truly cultural centre, embedded in the mind of the inhabitants. This was important for the survival of the place. It assisted the creation process through artists residencies and rehearsals, organised public shows and exhibitions as well as helping its audience with ateliers, workshops, masterclasses etc. But this lease eventually came to an end and no funding was found for the renovation of the building, which kept crumbling, making the majority of the rooms inaccessible.
The City council which had been very enthusiastic at the beginning completely dropped off the project. Indeed, the district of Hay Mohammadi is located next to the high-speed train line and is very appealing to developers who see in the 5 hectare site of the slaughterhouse, a brand new hotel complex.
The organisation CasaMémoire is fighting for the building to be classified and protected. They’ve already managed to get the Slaughterhouse onto the list of national monuments, although without positive outcomes. They also applied to the UNESCO World Heritage list but insisting on their will not to turn the place into a museum. These funds could potentially serve to rehabilitate the most undangered parts of the building, but CasaMémoire would want to keep the building available for artists and encourage street-art directly onto the walls, this however, is not UNESCO’s vision of World Heritage.
The negotiations are at a dead end. Some artists are still protesting by squatting at the space including circus school COLOKOLO. In 2013, one of the organisations connected to the place put together a series of workshops inviting representatives of different political parties to debate their vision of cultural policy in Morocco. Unfortunately, the Justice and Development Party, which heads the government and the Casablanca city hall didn’t send a representative.
As recalls journalist Ursula Lindsey, in an article for the NYTimes (here) “artists are caught between bureaucrats with a top-down vision of culture — as an activity the state sponsors and controls — and Islamists who often want the arts to be policed for disrespect or lewdness.” The future of this beautiful space is uncertain. And it is a shame when we consider that depriving people of a place for expressing themselves is what could actually lead to a revolution.
To go further into the history of the building and its surrounding neighbourhood, the site of the Cultural Fabric of the Former Slaughterhouse of Casablanca, read here (in French)