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The Concrete Fungi Plague

Traveling through Libya is probably one of the most dull, boring and uninspired architectural experiences in your life. As far as human contribution to a wonderful landscape there is nothing worth remembering.

Misrata 15-16 / 09 / 2011 - Photography: © Abdurrauf Madi - Tripoli, Libya
Misrata 15-16 / 09 / 2011 – Photography: © Abdurrauf Madi – Tripoli, Libya

It is an abysmal landscape; nothing here, I mean tumbleweed across your horizon, sand in your eyes nothingness.

You can see Greek, Roman and a bit of Ottoman empire influence in some of the ruins scattered across the vast stretch of land called Libya, other than that it’s like there was no one here; until recently that is. In the last 60 years or so, or after the discovery of oil a new architectural epidemic spread across the land. The concrete fungi or Lichens tide crept across the land, clusters upon clusters of concrete with no end in sight. You get the feeling that you are treading on a nuclear wasteland, like walking through Pripyat except there is no rhyme or reason in what you see, no hint of planning or thought have ever been invested in the making of these cities. The hordes of Engineers and Architects who graduated from the Universities are nowhere to be found or felt in this jungle of mortar and steel.

You might ask what I am on about? let me clarify. Take our neighbor Tunisia as an example, as soon as you enter the Tunisian borders, you are architectural sense is piqued by white painted houses with blue shutters and green shingles. Not only in the old city rural houses, but even in modern buildings and compounds. There is something in the way they build there, character; and you can see it everywhere you look buildings have soul.

In the last 60 years or so, or after the discovery of oil a new architectural epidemic spread across the land. The concrete fungi or Lichens tide crept across the land, clusters upon clusters of concrete with no end in sight.

My country’s architectural identity is a mesh-mash of concrete blocks and half-assed attempts on copying other architectural styles, they are at best a pale soulless copies compared to what they looked like in their original habitat, like animals in a zoo so trapped, out of place and alien. I guess that we don’t have an identity. We are a throng of nomad and war leftovers, the droppings of countless caravans that crossed this desert to settle in Morocco and Andalusia. We come from so many different places that we don’t know who we are anymore. So consumed in our own delusions of grandeur and self-absorbed glorification that we became blind to see what we have become, an ill gotten child of our own making. We are so content and happy in our concrete blocks that we became devoid of inspiration. We became callus, nothing can phase us, not even twenty or thirty years of an oppressive regime; just over forty years got us to stir for a bit and not all of us.

My heart sinks at the thought of what might wake us to see what have we done to ourselves and our country, to this beautiful piece of earth on which so much blood have been spilled just to claim a piece of it. What is it that we can do to wake up from this slumber and claim ourselves, to claim our identity, to smile and know that we are in Libya and not some God forsaken wasteland.

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