Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Architecture of Mauritius

So this morning I outlined a number of goals that this blog could be working towards. Tonight, I'd like to take one of those goals and flesh it out a bit more.
Nearly a year ago, my family and I moved to Mauritius. Not long after arriving the seed of an idea started germinating in my head that went something like the following:
The architecture of Mauritius can be broken down into many (many, many) sub-categories. By examining, analysing, and reporting on these categories, we can gain an understanding of various themes that lie both within and outside the field of architecture.
For example:
  • Colonial Architecture. Mauritius has been both a French and an English colony. Much of the countryside is made up of sugar plantations, and most of these plantations still have colonial houses as their centrepiece. The act of researching these plantation houses will necessarily involve a chronology of 18th and 19th century history of the island - its significant actors; french colonists and their continuing political and cultural influence on the island; imported technology and style from Europe and how (if?) this was translated into the regional context. A discussion on Mauritian colonial architecture can also undoubtedly be linked to other colonial architecture of the time - especially that around the Indian Ocean Rim (South and East Africa; India / Sri Lanka; Singapore/Malaysia; Australia). A comparison between the colonial architecture of these places(and perhaps more in-depth, the colonial heritage of these places) is where the key pieces of understanding are to be found.
  • Construction Technology. The dominant construction technology in Mauritius is one of reinforced concrete framed structures, with concrete block in-fill panels. Even the pitched roofs tend to be concrete cast in-situ. A discussion on this leads directly into the practicalities of constructing buildings in cyclone-prone areas. Are there other forms of construction that would stand up to the same conditions? What exactly is required for a building to stand up to cyclone force winds? What of those building elements which are not built of concrete (cyclone shutters are the norm on almost every building)? How do other parts of the world deal with the same problem?
  • Tourist Architecture. Aside from sugar and tea, Mauritius earns a large portion of its GDP from international tourism. Tourists come here for 5-star hotels with idyllic private beaches and apparently world class service excellence. The first two issues which need discussion on this topic are (1) the importing of architectural "styles" to fit with the branding / marketing direction of the hotels, and (2) how the hotels and resorts affect those of us who aren't actually tourists (dude, where's my beach?). A discussion on the first issue will always be an argument between corporate marketing departments, who necessarily have to make money, and academic regionalists, who believe that the architecture should speak to the cultural heritage of the specific place. Mauritius is not Bali, but Bali is what many visitors to the island will experience. To talk about the second issue needs a new chapter:
  • Spatial Planning. I've read before that Mauritius has one of the highest population densities in the world. This is clearly evident in the urban centres such as Port Louis, and the Quatre Borne/ Vacoas/ Rose Hill conurbation. These towns are packed full of people, with each building covering as much of its site as practical, and then quickly spreading upwards. Academics (as well as people who live in these cities) will tell you of the advantages of being within walking distance of the amenities that urban areas have to offer; of the advantages of reduced infrastructure cost due to concentrating more development into each unit area of infrastructure; and other stuff which I can't think of right now. However, outside these urban areas are vast rural lands - sugarcane farming in the central and northern regions, and tea farming in the south. These rural areas are dotted with fairly closely spaced villages and towns, reminiscent of English country villages. The villages are built up as islands in the sugarcane, typically with a congested high street with residential streets radiating off from them. Clearly most of these villages came into being before motorised transport was available on the island.

Anyway, the above is a brief introduction to the book I'd love to write on the Architecture of Mauritius. There is much more to be fleshed out, but more importantly, I think, is that there is much research to be done. The idea is that, if I do find time to get into the research, then I will blog the book portions at a time, as it gets written - both for critical comment, and to drum up interest in the subject.

We'll see if life's hectic schedule will allow me to put in the required time.


  1. nice ideas on mauritian architecture but i would like to suggest you to emphasize more on the port-louis colonial architecture because the foudation rest there

  2. Thanks Anon for the comment.

    You are correct of course - Port Louis has great examples of colonial architecture. On the municipal side there's things like Parliament, the building next door to parliament (think its the office of the prime minister), and the post office. On a more vernacular level, there are many old wood and iron houses, generally in a state of terrible dis-repair, which tell a nice story of early Mauritius. I imagine though, that a better place to start would be at the original settlement at Grand Port (in the Mahebourg area). Sadly I've only drive through Maehbourg once, and so no very little of the area.

    In any case, if you're interested, I'm continuing my architecture blog at, and keeping this blog for cooking. The island analysis blog is at its very early stages though, without much to see, but give it a little time and you'll see some decent posts there.