Cristiana Strava

Cristiana Strava is currently a PhD student at SOAS, University of London, where she is writing her dissertation on the transformation and appropriation of marginal urban space in Casablanca. Her fascination with the built environment dates back to a Romanian childhood spent in and around communist housing. After studying anthropology and visual and environmental studies at Harvard, she was awarded a Michael Rockefeller Fellowship to travel to Morocco, where among other things she had the chance of working with the Moroccan Energy Ministry on sustainable building technologies and discovered her current research topic. She is interested in exploring the myriad forces that make cities work, as well as the more poetic side of what being an urban dweller entails. She has occasionally dabbled in the audio-visual arts, filming and producing videos on wildly unrelated themes, such as community adaptation to climate change and representation of the exotic “other.”

Cristiana Strava’s project:

At Home with Modernity: Exploring Place-Making on the Margins of Casablanca

My project explores the socio-spatial dynamics in Hay Mohammadi, a marginalized and criminalized neighbourhood in Casablanca. Built on the gaping holes of a colonial era quarry, Hay Mohammadi has become a mythical neighborhood in the history of Morocco. Home to North Africa’s oldest and largest slum still in existence today, Hay Mohammadi served as a laboratory for experimentation with new urban planning and architectural forms at the height of the modernist movement (Cohen and Eleb 2002). Sixty years later these visionary projects stand as monuments to ruin and decay, victims of a toxic blend of political and economic circumstances. Famous for its dynamic labor unions that played a crucial role in the anti-colonial struggle, the neighborhood fell into disfavor during the reign of King Hassan II, whose response to protest and contestation was violent repression and the creation of an infamous torture prison in the neighborhood (Slymovics 2008, Takki 2012). A new wave of trauma hit Hay Mohammadi following the suicide bombings perpetrated in 2003 by youth from nearby Sidi Moumen. The neighbourhood has since become the focus of an emergency slum clearance program that has entailed the contested relocation of thirty thousand inhabitants to a district outside the city’s limits. At the same time, a renewed interest in both colonial and post-independence architectural heritage has brought the neighbourhood into international focus. The aim of this project is to explore the ways in which neighbourhood spaces have become powerful sites for the individual and communal negotiation of both past and future social imaginaries. More broadly, I aim to unpack and historicize some of the cultural assumptions made by current heritage and memory politics discourses operating in Casablanca. Questioning the enduring conventional narrative that continues to describe “Islamic” cities as either “traditional” or in danger of impending “dubaization” or “gulfication” (Elsheshtawy 2008), my study will reconsider existing material culture paradigms. By doing this I hope to contribute to a more nuanced and dynamic understanding of urban socio-spatial dynamics in North Africa. Based on fifteen months of fieldwork that combine participant-observation with a variety of sensorial and multi-media methodologies, this project will present an experiential account of how everyday lives and the built spaces in which they unfold are enmeshed in an intimate web of historical, material and sensorial aspects, and how these exist in tension with current political and heritage efforts centered on the neighborhood. My research questions are: what role do everyday practices play in the social production and construction of “belonging” in Casablanca’s oldest slum? How do various forms of power, both dominant and resilient, become represented through spatial practices and materialized through the built environment in Hay Mohammadi? How does communal memory and identity become inscribed in and contested through the urban fabric of Casablanca’s margins?


OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Barbara Bishay (June 21, 2014). Cristiana Strava. eume-city. Retrieved July 20, 2024 from

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