The latest content and news from the Barbican. Book tickets at
The latest content and news from the Barbican. Book tickets at

What links Agadir and the Barbican?

There’s more linking the North African city and this sixteen hectare corner of the Square Mile than you might think.

In February 1960 a devastating earthquake rocked Agadir, killing about a third of its population and injuring another third, making it the most destructive in Moroccan history.

Just 15 years before, the Second World War brought massive bomb damage to the Cripplegate area that the Barbican is in, resulting in a collapse of the resident population to merely 48 people.

When it came to rebuilding Agadir, 2km south of the earthquake’s epicentre, the recently crowned King Hassan II of Morocco appointed several architects. These men – many of whom were educated in the country’s former colonial power, France – were modernists. With the strong influence of Le Corbusier and Brutalism defining their designs, a New Agadir was born.

Its rebuilding was a source of much debate, at a time when Morocco, having recently become independent of its colonial powers of France and Spain, was trying to assert its own place domestically and globally.

Less than five years earlier, in 1957, the Court of Common Council had agreed a plan to counter the falling population in the Square Mile, signing off Chamberlin, Powell and Bon’s modernist proposal for the Barbican estate, a posterchild for Brutalism and urban living.

While the Barbican’s construction may have influenced JG Ballard’s High Rise, the disaster in Agadir and the political wrestling over its reconstruction inspired one of the most compelling Moroccan writers of the 20th century to pen his first major work. Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine’s poetic novel Agadir (1967) draws parallels between the earthquake and the seismic shifts taking place in contemporary Moroccan society.

It’s this revolutionary work, with its blend of reportage, poetry, drama and personal confession, that’s long been a stimulus for artist Yto Barrada. After reading it in her 20s, she’s come back to it time and again.

Questions raised by Khaïr-Eddine – and Brutalist architects – about how we reconstruct ourselves and the built environment, and indeed how we reconstruct society when tectonic change is taking place, infuse Barrada’s work. For her first major London commission, Barrada has created a vast backdrop (curved like the city’s bay) stretching along The Curve’s outer wall, as well as a new film commission, several sculptures and a series of live and recorded performances of Khaïr-Eddine’s surreal text.

As visitors embark on a conceptual journey through the city’s architecture, voices of the characters from Khaïr-Eddine’s novel fill the air, debating how the social, political and urban structures of their city might be reimagined.

It’s the kind of discussion that will be familiar to anyone who’s discussed the aesthetic and social value of the Barbican’s buildings – a fitting venue for Barrada’s new work.

Yto Barrada: Agadir is showing in The Curve until 20 May 2018 and is free to visit.

Originally published in the February Guide. Words by James Drury.

Watch an interview with Yto Barrada: