Designed by Italian architect Raffaele Contigiani in the 1970s, the Hôtel du Lac in Tunis is a beloved icon of Brutalist architecture in Africa and beyond. To locals, however, the building’s significance extends beyond its form: it was constructed under the government of Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia’s first president following independence from France. With its unique inverted pyramid shape and imposing cantilevered stairs at each end, the structure has endured in the heart of Tunisia’s capital as a symbol of modernism and autonomy from colonial rule.
For years now, the Hôtel du Lac has been under threat of demolition. Now, two Tunisian artists, Mouna Jemal Siala and Manna Jmal, have launched an online campaign to raise awareness of its impending disappearance. Titled “Non à la démolition” (“No to demolition”), the project consists of photographic interventions that transpose the eponymous message in Arabic to the building’s facade.
Since the early 2000s, the Hôtel du Lac has been closed to visitors and has increasingly fallen into disrepair. In 2011, it was sold to the Libyan government-owned investment fund Lafico, which announced its demolition in 2013. In February, the architect and activist Sami Aloulou of Edifices et Memoires, a Tunisian architecture conservation group, said on public radio that the building’s demolition was “imminent,” prompting outrage and an online petition that garnered nearly 3,000 signatures.
Siala and Jmal’s initiative is the latest effort to safeguard the architectural landmark. In a statement, the artists said they chose the color orange because it was trending in the 1970s, when the building was constructed, and recalls the interior atmosphere of the Hôtel in its heyday.
Another, perhaps unlikely group is invested in the structure’s survival: Star Wars fans. The building features 416 rooms across ten floors of increasing size, with a top floor that is twice the length of the ground floor — a design that recalls the “Sandcrawler,” a mobile fortress that appeared in the first installment of the original trilogy. Indeed, director George Lucas filmed part of the Star Wars saga in Tunisia, and some believe the Hôtel directly influenced the fortress’s form (though not everyone agrees.) In any case, the petition from 2019 cites the hotel’s possible connections to the space fantasy as one of many reasons to advocate for its survival.
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