Tunisia's Upside-Down Hotel, the endangered Brutalist monument

We speak to one of the activists set on saving the national monument from its impending doom.

The Hotel du Lac in Tunis is known for its distinctive design: it is shaped like a bird spreading its wings. For many, the hotel symbolises the emergence of the newly independent state of Tunisia.

The hotel, with its Brutalist style, was designed by Italian architect Raffaele Contigiani, and signified the nation’s departure from traditional and colonial architecture. The hotel, once a symbol of modernity and independence, now stands neglected and abandoned, and there is talk of it being demolished in the near future.

The Hotel du Lac was built in the 1970s, and opened its doors in 1973. It enjoyed years of glitz and glamour, and hosted many A-list guests, including celebrities such as James Brown. It was also said to have inspired George Lucas’ Sandcrawler ship in the Star Wars franchise.

Hotel du Lac Tunisia

However, at the turn of the century, the magnificence of the Hotel du Lac came to an end as the hotel closed its doors for the last time. Since then, the hotel has suffered significant decay and neglect. A fire broke out in 2011 causing further damage to the once great hotel.

Rumours of the possible demolition of the hotel caused a slight frenzy among architecture enthusiasts and Tunisian citizens.

"In order to understand the reasoning for the outcry to preserve the hotel, one needs to understand its history," says Emin Turki, President of The Buildings and Memories Association, one of the civil groups fighting for the preservation of the Hotel du Lac.

“Tunisia entered the era of modernity after its independence in 1956. Those in power wanted to demonstrate their willingness to modernise things, and therefore allowed the construction of this state-of-the-art hotel,” explains Turki.

Hotel du Lac Tunisia

He adds that significant periods in the country's history are marked with architectural symbols.

“Carthage has the Punic port, the Romans built the Amphitheatre of El Jem, the Aghlabids has the Mosque of Kairouan, and the post-independence period of Tunisia has the Hotel du Lac. It is a historical landmark,” says Turki.

According to him, while the opinions about the hotel have never been unanimous because of its its appearance, many Tunisians consider the Hotel du Lac as an icon and part of the collective memory of the nation.

After rumours of the possible demolition of the hotel started spreading, the municipality of Tunis stepped in and announced that they had not received nor granted a request for the hotel’s demolition.

However, Turki mentions that access to information about the future of the hotel is extremely difficult, “We have no reliable information for the moment - we just know that there is redevelopment work on the first three floors…the risk of demolition is always present. We continue to be vigilant.”

The Hotel du Lac is owned by the Libyan government-owned investment fund Lafico. According to Turki and The Buildings and Memories Association, the way forward is “to engage with the owner to exchange our visions and provide solutions that take into account the economic needs of the owner and the historic value of the Hotel du Lac".

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