The Architecture of Violence

--- is a piece of writing exploring the violence of architecture within the colonial city through Gillo Pontecorvo’s film, The Battle of Algiers.

The Architecture of Violence: Repression and Resistance in Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers brings together film studies, postcolonialism and postcolonial architectural theory to dissect The Battle of Algiers, examining and questioning the violent negotiation of power that is inherent to decolonisation and embedded within the architecture of the colonial city.

The Battle of Algiers, made in 1966 by Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo, is set during the Algerian War of Independence. The film narrates the anti-colonial struggle and the escalating fight between the Algerian Front de Libération National (FLN) and the French army as the Algerians attempt to liberate themselves from colonial rule.

The film is constructed around the theme of violence, a concept intrinsic to the colonial system. This violence surrounds us within The Battle of Algiers; shaping, reflecting and fighting against the architecture and spaces we confront. Set in the city of Algiers itself, the film moves between the Algerian part of the city, the Casbah, and the European quarters, built soon after French occupation in 1830. The architecture of the city is highly politicised, with the spaces reflecting the power dynamics of the colonial relationship.

( image from Çelik, 1997 )

Architecture, through the camera lens, becomes a language to be read, understood and questioned as the spaces we encounter are used to demonstrate the violent and shifting relationship between the coloniser and the colonised. By understanding how architecture can be used to manipulate, control and enforce the dominance of the coloniser, the spaces in the film become active as they become sites of repression and sites of resistance. Making postcolonial architectural theory visceral, the film allows the audience to imagine and feel the architecture of the city, making visible how it shapes and segregates people and illustrating how it can be used to enact power.

This analysis of The Battle of Algiers highlights the importance of architecture in shaping our lives and also of film in interrogating the consequences of architecture and urban design. The Battle of Algiers demonstrates how the camera can be used, with its own partial and particular lenses, to identify, reveal and question the power dynamics enacted in the spaces that surround us: how they can repress and how they can be resisted.

( film stills from The Battle of Algiers, 1966 )

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