On the Spaces of Guerre Moderne: The French Army in Northern Algeria (1954–1962)


  • Samia Henni ETH Zurich




The French Colonial War of Anti-Algerian Independence (1954–1962) is widely regarded as the precursor of civil-military counterinsurgency operations, and thereby of the rhetorical Global War on Terror of today. Its theories, known as the guerre moderne, were secretly transferred to North and South America in the sixties. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, however, the United States and other Western powers have overtly expressed their interest in French military practices in Algeria, but seldom in the fields of architecture and territorial planning.

This article examines the intrinsic relationships between the doctrines of the guerre moderne, the resultant built environments, and the socio-economic consequences of the two over the course of the French war in Algeria. It considers two major timeframes: first, the years between 1954 and 1958, which were characterised by the extraordinary fusion of civil and military authorities, and the construction of camps called centres de regroupement. Second, the period between 1958 and 1962, which brought General Charles de Gaulle back to power, divided military from civil powers, and transformed the camps into ‘rural settlements’. The two phases shared a common attitude, however, which considered the entire Algerian population as potential suspects, and that Algerians should thus be strategically and continuously overseen.

Author Biography

Samia Henni, ETH Zurich

Samia Henni (b. 1980, Algiers, Algeria) holds a Ph.D. (with distinction) in the History and Theory of Architecture from the ETH Zurich on ‘Architecture of Counterrevolution: The French Army in Algeria (1954–1962)’ awarded with an ETH medal. She is currently a lecturer and postdoc fellow in the History of Architecture at the ETH Zurich, and an Associate Professor in Research Practices at the Geneva University of Art and Design. Her teaching and writings focus on the intersection between colonial policies, military measures, and the expanded field of art, architecture and planning. Ongoing research projects include: ‘Discreet Violence, Territory and the French War in Algeria’, a traveling exhibition that scrutinises French military propaganda visual records produced in the fifties and sixties, and ‘Paris and the Algerian Desert’ that investigates French oil exploitation, nuclear experimentation, and the forced resettlement of nomadic populations during the Algerian Revolution.


Archival Sources

Archives Nationales d’Outre-Mer (Overseas National Archives, hereafter ‘FR ANOM’), FR ANOM 933/154; FR ANOM SAS DOC 5.

Service Historique de l’Armée de Terre (Historic Service of Land Forces, hereafter ‘SHAT’) SHAT 1H 2030; SHAT 1H 2485; SHAT 1H 2574; SHAT 1H 4394.


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