Patrimoine intangible

Quatrième épisode d'une série d'ateliers dans la médina de Tunis organisé par "l'Art Rue" en collaboration avec l'artiste Sonia Kallel . Cette fois si sur le theme des cinq sens: comment traduire des sensations et aborder la question du sensible de maniere graphique. Sentir, puis traduire ce que l'on ressent par l'intensité d'un trait de crayon ou d'un signe est un exercice difficile meme pour des enfants de huit ans. 

Sand dunes of the Medina

Slowly the Medina of Tunis is being dismantled, for every sand dune that appears an old stone wall is being replaced by a concrete one.

Mapping the Medina

We had our first session mapping out the Medina of Tunis with local school children. They have some amazing insights and I am really curious to see how the next session will be when they actually take us on a tour through their favourite parts of the Medina. 

Working with artist Sonia Kallel and the association l'art rue.

Live experiment in the Medina

Making "stuff" on the street is a playful thing, the product itself might be useless but it tells a story. The act of making is a form of communication, just like a piece of street theatre, the audience and the actors extend the possibilities of the public realm. Piling up bits of wood or making a trail of broken chairs can sound a bit irrational but it's a way of questioning the order of things, opening up to new possibilities. Most importantly in this exercise the students had to confront their fear of interacting with their environment outside of the classroom. 

 With  the design students from ESSTED and the support of the ASM of Tunis. 


After a few months of wondering through the medina this was an opportunity to let go of the contextual analysis and focus on a more hands on approach. Using recycled materials found at the school of Denden and the nearby craftsman’s workshops this workshop was devised as a playful experiment. 

Model making in Dar Lasram

It’s not everyday that you get to be creative in the most beautiful houses of the medina. This workshop was an opportunity for the design students (ESSTED) to explore ideas around the the medina's public realm using a DIY approach. This group exercise was divided in two parts: observation and site survey and then 3D modeling. The objective was for the student to make critical observations while working in volume instead of plan.

Drawing the Medina

As part of our project: Tabnika fil Medina with the design students of Denden (ESSTED) I organised a series drawing sessions. This classical approach to site analysis was a productive way for the students to engage with the medina. This allowed them to make observations about the architectural quality of he place but gave them the opportunity to stick around in one place for long enough to see what was happening. For most students this was the first time ever they were sketching in the medina.

Private realm

On a tour with Zoubeir Mouhli (ASM) and the product design students (ESSTED) as part of our project:  Tabnika fil Medina. A project focused on public realm and craftsmanship in the medina.

The public realm in Tunisian dialect is called: amlak al-bey, property of the Bey. This term, still in use today might partly explain why traditionally there were no “public spaces” but only different type of private spaces with a gradation from one to the other.

The inward looking architecture of the medina is built to protect the intimacy and privacy of its inhabitants. The layout of Dar Lasram, now home to the ASM of Tunis, is a prime example. Everything revolves around a central open space and there are no windows looking out.

Inside the house a few generations might coexist, each wives and children are given a room around the central courtyard. The divide between genders is the most important one. The female form is hidden away and there are a number of codes to make sure there are no inappropriate encounters.

The journey from the main road to the house is a walk through a maze of alleyways, sometimes one feels a bit unease while getting deeper into the urban fabric. Traditionally a large door might have fenced off the alleyway, creating yet another protection. One can still feel as if entering a private domain even though it is now open. Eventually a neighbour will inquire about your destination making sure you don't get lost...

Once in front of the house there is an elaborated system of metal door knockers to signal your presence. Depending on the sound it makes the visitor might be greeted in different ways.

The first step after having been introduced inside is the lobby or driba, it is a dark room with built-in benches, a reception for the less important visitors. To get further in, one is then being led through a series of L shaped corridors or skifa, the number of detours before accessing the courtyard is also dependant on the degree of nobility of its inhabitants. One can only wonder where this never ending architectural journey might lead.

This extreme care for privacy contrasts with the constant scrutiny, however much people try to hide there is no anonymity in the medina, everyone is watching and being watched. A good spot to gaze out is the café Sidi Ben Arous, a prime location on the way to the Zitouna mosque.   


Premiere présentation du projet: Tabnika Fil Médina. Ce projet ayant pour objet les espaces publiques et l’artisanat de la médina de Tunis est une collaboration entre L’ ESSTED et L’ASM. L’objectif est de concevoir avec les étudiants en design un mobilier urbain inspiré du contexte social, culturel et des savoirs faire présent dans la médina.

Cette recherche-action s’articule en deux temps, une phase de prise de contact avec la médina puis une phase de conception et de réalisation.

La découverte de la médina est l’occasion pour les étudiants de se forger un point de vue qui leurs est personnel et de développer un scenario qui sera a l’origine de leurs réalisations. On leurs demande pour cette phase de documenter leurs recherches mais aussi de tester leurs idées au travers de prototypes in situ.  

La deuxième étape est une phase de conception et de réalisation, les étudiants devront apporter une réponse créative à la commande qu’ils ont fixés. Cela nécessite une connaissance approfondie du site d'intervention et un dialogue avec les artisans avec lesquels ils souhaitent travailler. Ce travail se terminera au printemps par une réalisation et installation du projet in situ.

Equipe ASM : Leila Ben Gacem, Marouan Zbidi, Benjamin Perrot

Equipe ESSTED : Nader Boukadi, Fathi Mhamdi


Doolesha is an old Tunisian dialectic word that means "strolling in a slow pace for pleasure". This term is also the name of a collective of  Architects taking visitors on a journey through the Médina. The tour is close to the idea of the "dérive", an aimless walk through the city where getting lost is part of the experience.

Doolesha will be taking part in the festival Dream City.  

Looking for Ibn Khaldûn’s house

Looking for the house of Ibn Khaldûn is one of the main obsessions of Mohamed S.N.P, the protagonist of Rachid Boudjedra’s novel Thousand and one Years of the Nostalgia. In the book, the house of the famous scholar, believed to be the father of modern sociology, is supposedly in a forgotten Algerian village in the middle of the desert.

Mohamed’s last name is S.N.P., an acronym that stands for “Sans Nom Patronymique”, without surname. This is a reference to an ironic administrative practice developed in colonised Algeria, where traditionally people didn’t necessarily use family names. This administrative twist is however a symptom of a deeper identity crisis for the character. Hence why Mohamed sets himself the goal of searching for the Muslim erudite’s house to reconnect with his past and reclaim his sense of self.

The house of Ibn Khaldûn that I discovered is in central Tunis, in an understated part of the medina. A faded plaque in Arabic signals the house where the great historian and philosopher was born and lived in the fourteenth century. There was nobody to greet me behind the open door, just an empty chair, as if the concierge had momentarily nipped out. It was unclear whether the building was meant to be open to the public.

Funnily enough, the house is now used as an office of the I.N.P, the state department for heritage, whose acronym stands for “Institut National du Patrimoine”. Each room, including the central courtyard, is filled with stacks of paper and files. Ibn Khaldûn’s house, now an archive depot, is caving under the weight of paperwork.

Mohamed S.N.P. would have probably interpreted this as the last joke of the colonisers, who left behind an administrative nightmare, making his quest for self-recognition so complex and intricate, he might never get to the bottom of it. The irony of this situation somehow made my visit more meaningful than if I had ran into a well-restored and curated historical building. 

City Change Maker/ Tunis

Making the médina a vibrant city centre, attractive to businesses, tourists and inhabitants. Those are the challenges that were addressed at the workshop I was kindly invited to contribute to on Saturday. This event was organised by City Change Maker in collaboration with the ASM  of Tunis (Association de Sauvegarde de la Médina) which has been preserving the Médina, a UNESCO world heritage for the last 48 years.

The old town is not yet a fashionable hang out for young Tunisians, especially at a time when a western lifestyle and modernity are the the comon aspiration. Most of the few hundred historical buildings worth visiting in the Médina are now indefinitely closed for renovation and the few tourists still wondering around don’t venture much out of the main souk.

There is many challenges that needs to be addressed and one of them is the way to support local craftsmen in a context where their skills are undervalued and their products are being replaced by cheaper Chinese import. Nowadays even the best-intentioned tourists will have difficulty to find locally made products in this maze of replica. However the medina is still an amazing resource in terms of craftsmanship and if those skills are not passed on to the next generation it will be a great cultural loss.

One of the outcome of the workshop was the idea to rebrand the Médina, using “Made in Médina”  as a way to promote local craftsmanship and ethical business values. This could include working with young designers and craftsmen to develop products that would attract a wider range of customers and create an incentive for Tunisians to rediscover the rich heritage of the medina.

Grange/ Big local

Community workshop and initial consultation for Grange big local. A community led public realm improvement scheme.

Recipe 25


1200 gr Agar Agar

450 ml Glycerol

700 gr Woodchip

400 gr Yellow pigment

6 L water