Nancy Demerdash

Nancy Demerdash is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Art & Archaeology at Princeton University. She is writing her dissertation on modern architecture, decolonization and nation-building in twentieth-century Tunisia. She holds a Master of Science in Architecture Studies (S.M.Arch.S.) degree from the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), and an Honors Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree in Art History and Religious Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Recently, she taught a course on globalization, urbanism, and social justice at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (S.A.I.C.). She has also published in the peer-reviewed journals New Middle Eastern Studies and the International Journal of Islamic Architecture.

Nancy Demerdash’s project:

Razing Gourbivilles and Decolonizing Space: Bourguibist Spatial Politics in Post-Independent Tunisia

My project investigates the dialectical discourses of modernism and vernacularism in Tunisian architectural and urban projects of the late French protectorate into the postcolonial period, 1920-1980. With a particular focus on issues of habitation—the perennially dubbed ‘crise de logement’—it tracks the reorganization of social space in Tunisian Sahelian cities and formal negotiations of architectural style and plan in designing Tunisian settlements. Reckonings with vernacular architecture paradoxically forwarded modernist building agendas.

In an era that witnessed mass-scale land expropriations, rural-urban migrations, and popular anti-colonial sentiment, this project traces the material effects of Tunisians’ displacements and urban adaptations to their rapidly changing socio-political condition. Underscoring the tensions between formal and informal settlements in modern Tunisia, it explores social housing projects that developed parallel to the spread of indigenous gourbivilles (earthen dwellings) and bidonvilles (‘tin can’ towns) on the outskirts of these urban nodes. Challenging the predominant historiographical narrative that presents independence of 1956 as a stark political rupture, this dissertation instead demonstrates that the vestiges of urban and preservationist policy schemes remained ingrained, on an institutional level, from protectorate rule. How the political processes of decolonization and nation-building intersect with the ethics of dignified dwelling undergirds this project.



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Barbara Bishay (July 23, 2014). Nancy Demerdash. eume-city. Retrieved July 21, 2024 from

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