Maya Desbordes / History of Art and Design BA(Hons)

Essay title over picture of buildings


My dissertation revolves around two distinct yet deeply connected areas of study: colonial eras and Modernism. On the many occasions when, in the study of History of Art and Design, we find ourselves engaged with Modernist council estates, the visual is central to the discussions. They revolve around the innovations and the philosophies behind the designs. When put in a specific location and political context, however, the nature of these estates and the conversations that go along with them change. When the makers are not only architectural figures, but also participate in colonial power struggles, these buildings become colonial symbols. In this dissertation, I go deeper by questioning the real motivations behind council estates built during a colonial war and how Modernism participated in the affirmation of the colonial power structure.

To illustrate my argument, I chose the Grand Ensemble (meaning ‘Great Ensemble’, a large-scale housing complex) of Climat de France inaugurated in 1957 in Algiers, Algeria. This complex was built by French architect Fernand Pouillon (1912-1986) and commissioned by Algiers’s mayor in order to fulfil his electoral slogan. He promised his constituency to solve the urban crisis the capital was facing in the heat of the Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962), opposing France to Algerian anti-colonial resistance. My research is led by a Foucauldian approach to architecture, relating buildings to the power struggle they embody and their effect on the bodies and the minds of those who inhabit them.  I will also support my arguments with first-hand accounts and memoirs in accordance with the lived experience of history and architecture, such as Pouillon’s memoir and anti-colonial intellectual Frantz Fanon’s (1925-1961) A Dying Colonialism (1959).


large building with columns at forefront and courtyard in center
Leo Fabrizio. Place des deux cents colonnes (Square of the two hundred columns).
Climat de France, Algiers. 2018. From Bengoa, Daphné, Leo Fabrizio and Kaouther Adimi.
Fernand Pouillon, bâtir à hauteur d’homme. (Fernand Pouillon Building at men’s height).
Edition Macula, 2019. Print