Tiles of Casablanca

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March 19, 2012

Wandering the streets of downtown Casablanca, one sees a whole other use of tile on building facades. Instead of the reddish concrete with colorful accents you see in Marrakech (which I documented here), the White City has a decidedly less decorated feel. As an early 20th century laboratory for art deco, art nouveau, modernist, and neo-Moroccan design, Casablanca emphasizes form over ornament. And yet, that great ceramic tradition can still be felt. Here's a glimpse of the use of tile I saw over the course of a couple days wandering around Casablanca.

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  The buildings in downtown Casablanca are, as the name might suggest, overwhelmingly white. And though they're rather gritty today, it was magical trying to imagine the gleaming white city on the edge of Africa it must have been in the 30s. I did come across some use of tile on facades, however, like this modernist building. None of the grand mosaic work here, but in a nod to local traditions this tall drink of water is clad in a raft of small, burgundy tiles.
    The buildings in downtown Casablanca are, as the name might suggest, overwhelmingly white. And though they're rather gritty today, it was magical trying to imagine the gleaming white city on the edge of Africa it must have been in the 30s. I did come across some use of tile on facades, however, like this modernist building. None of the grand mosaic work here, but in a nod to local traditions this tall drink of water is clad in a raft of small, burgundy tiles.
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  I snapped this picture of the side of a local post office. So much of Moroccan tile is about color, repetition, and geometry so seeing these groovy forms (echoes of Matisse, no?) was a surprise. But they add quite a charming bit of organic ornament to a dusty block of downtown.
    I snapped this picture of the side of a local post office. So much of Moroccan tile is about color, repetition, and geometry so seeing these groovy forms (echoes of Matisse, no?) was a surprise. But they add quite a charming bit of organic ornament to a dusty block of downtown.
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  Here's a bit more of the rich decoration that one gets used to in Morocco. This mailbox on the facade of the main post office just off Mohammed V Square plays nicely off of the white building. I also love that you've got three options when dropping off your letter: Casablanca, Morocco, and Abroad.
    Here's a bit more of the rich decoration that one gets used to in Morocco. This mailbox on the facade of the main post office just off Mohammed V Square plays nicely off of the white building. I also love that you've got three options when dropping off your letter: Casablanca, Morocco, and Abroad.
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  I snapped this one of a small tiled column in the Marche Centrale where I had my lunch of fresh fish. If you were to take in the whole scene you'd see a bunch of discarded boxes and heaps of trash around the pillar, but part of what was so enormously charming about Morocco is how even in the midst of the rubbish these beautiful designs keep poking out.
    I snapped this one of a small tiled column in the Marche Centrale where I had my lunch of fresh fish. If you were to take in the whole scene you'd see a bunch of discarded boxes and heaps of trash around the pillar, but part of what was so enormously charming about Morocco is how even in the midst of the rubbish these beautiful designs keep poking out.
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  In terms of exterior ornament, the crown has to go to the Hassan II mosque. Built right on the edge of the sea—over the top of what used to be a grand public bath—this mosque was completed in 1993 and was designed by French architect Michel Pinseau for King Hassan II. It's the biggest mosque in Morocco and only one of a few that non-Muslims can visit.
    In terms of exterior ornament, the crown has to go to the Hassan II mosque. Built right on the edge of the sea—over the top of what used to be a grand public bath—this mosque was completed in 1993 and was designed by French architect Michel Pinseau for King Hassan II. It's the biggest mosque in Morocco and only one of a few that non-Muslims can visit.
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  I had a chance to wander around the facade—my visit did not coincide with any of the guided tours, sadly—but the work was spectacular. Again, green is the dominant color as it's the color of Islam (and the star on the Moroccan flag). You absolutely get lost in the depth of the mosaic work.
    I had a chance to wander around the facade—my visit did not coincide with any of the guided tours, sadly—but the work was spectacular. Again, green is the dominant color as it's the color of Islam (and the star on the Moroccan flag). You absolutely get lost in the depth of the mosaic work.
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  I think this is my favorite of all the tile photos I took. Without looking closely you almost lose the sense that this is made of tile and plaster at all. And the great bursts of green and blue on the mosque offer such a tight, expressionistic bit of filigree up against the light marble of the structure. My guide told me that the structure cost some $800 million and was one of the last big building projects of Hassan II's life.
    I think this is my favorite of all the tile photos I took. Without looking closely you almost lose the sense that this is made of tile and plaster at all. And the great bursts of green and blue on the mosque offer such a tight, expressionistic bit of filigree up against the light marble of the structure. My guide told me that the structure cost some $800 million and was one of the last big building projects of Hassan II's life.

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