Tamed Waters

Ordering the City and Hinterland of Meknes, 1912–1956
by Sara Frikech

This dissertation examines the hydraulic infrastructure of the city and hinterland of Meknes at the time it was a French protectorate (1912-1956). There have been many studies on French colonial architecture and urbanism in Morocco. Studies focusing on rural modernisation are less common but interest in the subject is growing. However, spatial and material research on the hydraulic infrastructure within a rural-urban continuum remains largely unexamined. I argue that the spatial and material form of these hydraulic interventions was not merely a technical matter. Rather, the ways in which flows of water were either redirected or enclosed – at various strategic sites – served a specific symbolic, social, cultural, and political purpose, altering everyday life and reconfiguring vast rural and urban territories. The colonial water regime enabled the transformation of power relations, disrupted communal networks, and expropriated water resources, thus playing a critical role in the process of pacification and urban-rural modernisation. Furthermore, scientific innovation advancing water-related expertise, engineering, knowledge and tools, along with environmental imaginaries provided the impetus for a host of hydro-technical projects. The region of Meknes, located within the Sebou river basin, constitutes a prime example of the confluence of these processes, due to its strategic geographical location. This research therefore focuses on a series of case studies at three interrelated territorial scales: the regional, the direct hinterland, and the urban. Although these case studies centre on projects that were initially conceived by colonial officials and technocrats, they include other agencies that witnessed their conception and realisation so as to question the multiple effects of these projects and how they have shaped the architectural development of hydraulic infrastructure. The entanglement of water, modernity, infrastructure, colonial policies, and the construction of territory is addressed with the notion of ‘domestication’.  The study attempts to extend the discourse on French colonial architecture by examining hydraulic infrastructural projects, and this subsequently problematises the urban-rural divide. The overall aim is to offer an alternative architectural reading of the French Protectorate, by shedding light on a neglected region that is of singular importance in modern Moroccan history.

Hover Image: Meknès, Plan d’aménagement / Section technique des plans de villes du Maroc, 1926.
gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France

Sara Frikech