28 Oct 2015
Béni-Isguen, Algeria
Renewable energy and energy efficiency, Sustainable Housing & Construction

Tafilelt is a new city in the M’Zab Valley that reflects the architectural and cultural heritage of an ancient region. Ksar (fortified village) has 1,050 Saharan houses which were built in a style which respects the local environment and follows local construction techniques. With a combination of mutual assistance and environmental commitment, Tafilelt encourages its residents to be eco-citizens through various community initiatives.

In the heart of the Sahara, the M’Zab Valley has kept most of its housing traditions and building techniques since the 11th century and as a result is classed as a Unesco World Heritage Site. Ksar of Tafilelt, a new city project developed by the Amidoul foundation was built in this region and was design to be both sustainable and eco-friendly but also to preserve the social values of this traditional society. 1,050 houses have already been built using local materials and traditional techniques for their constructions and also incorporating many environmentally friendly solutions such as the use of solar panels and waste water treatment. In addition the city encourages its residents to participate fully in this sustainable construction project through various training workshops on the theme of environmental protection.

Meet Moussa Amara, technical director of the Tafilelt project.

How did the project Tafilelt emerge?

Tafilelt is a social project developed by the Amidoul foundation, a non-profit Algerian organisation. The project was launched in late 1990 to address the housing crisis in the M’Zab Valley. The valley is a site classified by Unesco, but its heritage was being destroyed, and the palm groves disappearing under the advance of concrete construction. Mr. Ahmed Nuh, president of the Amidoul Foundation initiated this project to build housing for the middle class. It was a brave project, as the location was a very rocky site, with significant slopes. But the objective was to protect the palm forests.

What is Tafilelt housing model?

The construction of the city of Tafilelt was a long and difficult task, but we finally managed to build 1,050 houses of various sizes, to suit the needs of each family. The weather conditions of the region forced us to design narrow streets to protect the city from hot winds. All socio-educational and commercial facilities were built inside the city so that the architectural complex is harmonious. The choice of materials was also very important. We focused from the start on local materials such as stone, lime and plaster. Why use concrete when the M’Zab Valley sits on an inexhaustible stone deposit? On site, we also reintroduced traditional techniques in stonework, metal work, woodwork etc. The idea was to combine tradition and modernity.

The utopian city of the Algerian desert | The Switchers
The utopian city of the Algerian desert | The Switchers

What ecological value brings this project?

Tafilelt is based on an environmental approach and heritage preservation. We are located in the M’Zab Valley, a site with a delicate balance in the heart of the Sahara desert, which suffers mainly from lack of water. So we created four sewage treatment mini-stations based on plants (phytoremediation) located in different parts of the city. We also implemented a recycling system and families have been educated in waste management techniques, for instance using organic waste to make compost or to feed the goats. We have also created an eco-park with areas dedicated to organic practices and where other activities are organised.

Are inhabitants required to take environmental measures?

No, it is optional. But people spontaneously take part in this approach. With this awareness and commitment, the volume of household waste has been reduced by 60-70%. Tafilelt is now famous for its cleanliness. The town services collect the waste at specific points and the rest of the valley is cleaned by the citizens themselves.

The aim is to involve people in environmental awareness to ensure the transition to the world of tomorrow.Moussa Amara, technical director of the Tafilelt project.
The utopian city of the Algerian desert | The Switchers

Were the inhabitants of the city sensitive to the issue of environmental and heritage preservation?

People here are rooted in their land. They are aware of the importance of preserving the local architectural heritage. However, the environmental issue is new to them. Until recently, it was a topic discussed only among intellectuals. But ultimately, we realized that people spontaneously agreed to these environmental protection measures. Also, we set up small actions to motivate them, like getting eggs or milk in return for those who treated their waste. It is a form of reward without payment.

How was the project financed?

We used a self-financing system and social support. We were granted interest-free loans by generous donors who support the foundation. Future owners make an initial contribution and commit to repay the remaining according to a payment schedule set according to their funds. Within the Foundation, there is a panel that selects and guides future investors, who then receive substantial aid from the State to become owners.

What is the role of the community in this project?

The community aspect is traditional in the M’Zab Valley. We wanted to preserve essential values such as living well together and mutual aid. This aspect has also defined the scope of the project in our drive to create a manageable town, where everyone knows everyone and where people feel safe. This also determines many logistical aspects in terms of waste management and energy efficiency. We can produce our energy ourselves within manageable spaces.

Do you intend to create another Tafilelt in the future?

For now we cannot meet the needs of all the communities however we wish to launch a guidance formula and put our experience and knowledge to serve other similar initiatives, whether in Algeria or in the rest of the world.

Tafilelt Construction
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