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28 Oct 2015
Béni-Isguen, Algeria
Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, Sustainable Construction

Tafilelt is a new town in the M’Zab Valley that reflects the cultural and architectural heritage of a thousand-year-old region. The ksar (fortified village) comprises 1,050 Saharan-style houses designed with respect for the environment and local construction techniques. Combining values of mutual aid and environmental commitment, Tafilelt encourages its inhabitants to become fully involved in eco-citizenship through various community initiatives.

 

In the heart of the Saharan desert, the M’Zab Valley has preserved  practically the same mode of habitat and the same construction techniques since the 11th century, which earned it a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is in this region that the ksar of Tafilelt, a new city project developed by the Amidoul foundation, was born. The city of Tafilelt was designed with environmental and sustainable development in mind, but also to meet the need to preserve the social values of this traditional society. Thanks to a system of self-financing and social mutual aid, 1,050 houses were built in the city of Tafilelt, using local materials and traditional techniques for their construction. In addition to integrating numerous ecological solutions such as the use of solar panels and wastewater treatment, the city of Tafilelt encourages its residents to participate fully in this sustainable construction project through training and various workshops on the theme of environmental protection.

Meeting with Moussa Amara, technical director of the Tafilelt project.

– How was the Tafilelt project born?

– Tafilelt is a social project developed by the Amidoul foundation, an Algerian non-profit entity. The project was launched at the end of the 1990s in response to the housing crisis in the M’Zab Valley. This valley is a site classified by UNESCO, but its heritage was beginning to deteriorate, and the palm grove was gradually retreating in front of the advancing concrete. Mr. Ahmed Nouh, president of the Amidoul Foundation, therefore initiated this project of building housing for the middle class. It was a courageous project because the chosen location was a rocky site with important slopes. But the objective was to protect the palm grove.

– What does Tafilelt’s habitat model consist of?

– The construction of the Tafilelt city was a long and difficult work, but in the end we managed to build 1,050 houses of various sizes, adapting to the needs of each family. The climatic conditions of the region forced us to design narrow streets to protect the town from the hot winds. All the socio-educational and commercial facilities were integrated into the city so that the architectural ensemble would be harmonious. The choice of materials was also very important. From the start, we favoured local materials such as stone, lime and plaster. What’s the point of using concrete when the M’Zab Valley sits on an inexhaustible stone deposit? On the construction site, we also reintroduced traditional techniques in the work of stone, ironwork, woodwork … 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 does this project bring?

– Tafilelt is part of a heritage and environmental preservation approach. We are located in the M’Zab Valley, a site with a fragile balance in the heart of the Sahara desert, which suffers mainly from a lack of water. We have therefore designed four vegetation-based wastewater treatment mini-stations (phyto-purification) distributed in different parts of the city. We have also set up a selective sorting system. All the families were trained upstream to learn about waste management techniques. For example, we use organic waste to make compost or to feed the goats. We have also created an eco-park with spaces dedicated to organic practices, where we organize numerous activities.

– Is environmental involvement mandatory for residents?

– No, it is optional. But people spontaneously join in when they are well informed. Thanks to this awareness among the inhabitants, the volume of domestic waste has been reduced by 60 to 70%. Tafilelt is now renowned for its cleanliness. The commune’s services only take charge of waste collection at very specific points. The rest of the cleaning of the valley is taken care of by the citizens themselves.

The objective is to involve the inhabitants in raising environmental awareness to ensure the transition to tomorrow's world. 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? 

– The people here are rooted in their land, they are aware of the importance of preserving the local architectural heritage. On the other hand, the environmental issue is new to them. Until recently, it was a subject only addressed in intellectual circles. But finally, we are realizing that people spontaneously adhere to these environmental protection approaches. And then we also set up small actions to motivate them. For example, in the city there is a chicken coop and a small farm with goats, cows, and so on. Citizens who treat their waste receive eggs or milk to reward them for their action. This is a way to motivate them, even if people do it spontaneously.

– How was the project funded?

– We used a system of self-financing and social self-help. Interest-free loans were granted by generous notables who support the foundation. The future owners make a small initial contribution and undertake to repay the remaining price of the house depending on a schedule set according to their repayment capacity. Within the foundation, there is a commission dedicated to the selection of the files and to the support of the future owners, who also receive an important help from the State to become homeowners.

– What role does the community aspect play in this project?

– The community aspect is a thousand-year-old heritage in the M’Zab Valley. We wanted to preserve essential values such as good living together and mutual aid. This aspect also defined the scope of the project in our desire to create a manageable city, where everyone knows everyone else, where people feel safe. It also determines many logistical aspects in terms of waste management and energy efficiency. We can produce our own energy in manageable spaces.

– Do you intend to create another Tafilelt in the future?

– For the moment we cannot meet the needs of all municipalities, but we would like to launch an accompaniment formula and put our experience and knowledge at the service of other initiatives similar to Tafilelt, whether in Algeria or in the rest of the world.

Tafilelt Construction
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