La Villa Ronde, Casablanca
4 June 2018
From the beginning of the 20th century, after becoming a French protectorate, Casablanca became the place for experimental architecture for Europeans. Wandering the streets of Casablanca evidence of this is everywhere, from the neoclassical and art deco detailing to entire buildings in conversation with these styles. European architects fantasised about Casablanca being the city of modernisation and Muslim, French and Jewish Moroccan patrons, also gripped by these aspirations, commissioned buildings that encouraged the experimentation and innovation.
Emerging from the top of the hill, like something out of a sci-fi novel, La Villa Ronde stands steady amongst the villas in Casablanca’s oldest and now most affluent quarter, Anfa. Built in 1962 by German architect Wolfgang Ewerth, the villa looks like an alien spaceship about to take off on stilts, floor to ceiling windows sweep around the sides. Inside, you are welcomed by a curved staircase, the wall clad with heavily-varnished layered wooden slats. As you reach the top you face an empty windowed cylindrical area, like a round Moroccan riad courtyard, which breaks up, what would otherwise be a vast open space and creates something somewhat like the insides of a snail’s shell. It forces you to move anti-clockwise to the wall of windows over-looking Anfa and the ocean. The light is intense but gorgeous, detracting from the two Andy Warhol prints on display. As you walk round, doors lead off to rooms, the first a salon with a plastic blow-up settee and magnificent large radio. To the right a door leads to a startling pastel-pink bathroom with hexagonal mirrored-covered walls all facing the bath. Bizarrely, a corridor runs behind the bathroom with only frosted windows dividing the two.
The corridor runs from the sitting room to a former bedroom, now an exhibition space. The work of Amina Agueznay currently fills the room, facing a jungle of foliage just outside the windows. Through to the next room is another exhibition space where the work of Morran Ben Lahcen and Saïd Afifi hangs on the walls. All three of these Moroccan artists are inspired by natural materials and organic forms used, and altered by human hands. In this exhibition, Agueznay makes jewellery out of natural fibres and patterns, Lahcen uses wool and Afifi’s paintings depict large rocks with angles and lines drawn across them. All the work sits in stark juxtaposition to the interiors, yet it is also very fitting. Although the sixties was very consumerist and a time of heavily manufactured materials, for architects, designs were inspired by organic forms such as curves, as was La Villa Ronde. The work of Lahcen, Agueznay and Afifi speak to these contradictions.
As you leave the former bedrooms you pass another bathroom, this time pastel yellow tiles cover the walls matching the pale yellow sinks and tub. Frosted widows separate the room from the inner hallway that runs around the open space in the centre. Separated off from the spiral is the kitchen, another sixties interior of blue and yellow pastel walls and metal appliances with a view over the roundabout fountain at the entrance. Overall, this amazing architectural space, filled with the best of sixties interiors is a stimulating place to look at art. Admittedly, the interiors distract from the art on exhibition, but ultimately the combination of the three aspects culminate in an energising visit. Repurposing old, architecturally engaging spaces for the display of contemporary art has really gained force in Morocco. In 2016, Comptoir des Mines Galerie opened in an art-deco building built for and used by a mining company. The old art-deco Banque al Maghrib and Dar Moulay Ali: Maison de la France (all of these buildings are in Marrakech) have also held fantastic exhibitions even if the work was not made with the space in mind. The exhibitions allow for the architecture to be appreciated and enjoyed alongside the stimulating contemporary art scene in Morocco.
Ramadan’Art at La Villa Ronde is open to the public until 7 June 2018.
To find out more about Casablanca’s architecture visit: casamemoire.org