Inside Anfa, the Casablanca Neighbourhood Attracting Multimillion-Dollar Home Buyers - Kanebridge News
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Inside Anfa, the Casablanca Neighbourhood Attracting Multimillion-Dollar Home Buyers

The historic area has long been the city’s most exclusive residential enclave, offering a choice of French colonial homes, traditional Moroccan villas or new builds with plenty of land

By INDIA STOUGHTON
Mon, Jun 3, 2024 8:49amGrey Clock 5 min

Offering a beguiling blend of rich history and cutting-edge modernity, the seaside neighbourhood of Anfa is where Casablanca’s most exclusive and luxurious residences are located.

The historic Moroccan neighbourhood still bears the original name of the port city, which was called Anfa from the time it was founded around the 10th century B.C., up until the 15th century, when its name changed to Casablanca.

“In the 7th century, Anfa was home to a fishing port. It then lost its influence until the period of the French Protectorate,” said Marc Leon, CEO of Christie’s Real Estate Morocco. The French ruled over Morocco from 1912 to 1956, after which Anfa “became one of the most emblematic districts of Casablanca due to its rich and fascinating history, its colonial and Art Deco architecture, its green spaces and the presence of the Royal Golf Anfa Mohammedia, as well as the royal residence,” he said.

The largest city in Morocco, Casablanca is the country’s economic and business capital, but the peaceful residential streets of Anfa offer respite from the hustle and bustle of big city life. The neighbourhood is set between the beachfront and the modern city centre and is known for its historic sites, its hundred-year-old racetrack and its nine-hole golf course. Together with the neighbourhoods of Racine and Gauthier, Anfa forms part of Casablanca’s “Golden Triangle,” offering a mixture of historic and modern homes, primarily villas set amid lush, spacious gardens.

Boundaries

The Anfa neighbourhood runs from the ocean to a small inland hill. It is bounded to the north by the Atlantic Ocean and to the east it extends as far as the city’s railway line and Avenue 2 Mars. To the south, it is bounded by Boulevard Al Qods, and to the west it encompasses the newly developed Casablanca Finance City, extending along the coastline as far as Madame Choual beach.

Price Range

Luxury properties in Anfa range in price from 17,000 Moroccan dirhams (US$1,705) per square meter to 35,000 dirhams per square meter, said Vanessa Bouskila, sales manager at Kensington Luxury Properties Casablanca. The larger the property, the lower the price per square meter, she added. Prices are primarily determined by the property’s location and its views, she said, with seafront properties commanding a premium.

“The most expensive villa currently on the market is listed at US$80 million,” she said, adding that the trophy properties in the neighbourhood were built by famous architects, such as the private Anfa villa designed by French icon Jean Nouvel or the circular Villa Camembert, which was designed in 1962 by German architect Wolfgang Ewerth. Properties with a famous former inhabitant are also in high demand, she said, citing Villa Bolloré, formerly owned by French industrialist Vincent Bolloré.

Housing Stock

Anfa offers a diverse selection of luxury residences, “a combination of old French colonial buildings, traditional Moroccan villas and new modern constructions on large plots of land, most of which have swimming pools,” Leon said. The neighbourhood is also famous for its experimental Art Deco and modernist villas, designed by prominent Moroccan and international architects.

Anfa is divided into four sections, according to Leon. The most exclusive and sought-after residential district is Anfa Supérieur.

Most of the neighbourhood’s new homes have swimming pools.
Courtesy of Kensington Luxury Properties

“Located on a hill near the golf course, the royal residence and the homes of Moroccan notables, it is the most popular area and properties for resale are very rare and therefore very expensive,” he said. The district offers very high levels of privacy and security, he added. “There are no nearby commercial amenities. The area is only residential and isolated from the city. You will not find a single traffic light there.”

Another popular residential area is Anfa Inférieur, “a privileged district at the foot of the hill, delimited by Boulevard André Masset and Boulevard Kennedy,” he said. The neighbourhood also encompasses Anfa Raha, an extension of Anfa which was integrated around 15 years ago and offers properties with particularly large areas of land, starting at 2,000 square meters.

Residents who prefer a more modern milieu are most likely to be drawn to the former site of the city’s old airport, which has been reimagined as a business district called Casablanca Finance City, offering high-end contemporary apartments.

What Makes It Unique

With its easy access to both the seafront and the city centre, Anfa is ideally placed.

“The sea and the corniche with its attractions are a few hundred meters away on foot,” Bouskila said.

Anfa’s Arab League Park is centrally located.
Hans Lucas/AFP via Getty Images

Alongside its uniquely leafy and calm residential streets—where residents can often be seen out for a jog—the neighbourhood offers plenty of green space, including the more than 100-acre Anfa Park, located in Casablanca Finance City, and the centrally located Arab League Park, with its stately row of fountains. The historic Hippodrome Casablanca Anfa was built in 1912, and horses still race along its sandy track.

Historic landmarks include El Hank Lighthouse, which offers spectacular views of the city and sea, Hassan II Mosque, one of the largest in Africa, with space to host over 100,000 worshippers, Mohammed V Square—affectionately known as Pigeon Square in honour of its abundance of the birds—and Casablanca Cathedral, which was built in 1930 and today serves as a cultural centre hosting art exhibitions and events.

Luxury Amenities

“Anfa borders the Atlantic Ocean and the numerous restaurants and private clubs of the Corniche,” Leon said. “On the city side, multiple ultra-modern private medical clinics have been established, which attract local and international patients.” The area also offers some of the city’s finest luxury shopping opportunities, with a wide range of upmarket international brands available in Morocco Mall and the Anfaplace Mall.

“The most popular sport is golf,” Bouskila said. Royal Golf Anfa Mohammedia is popular not only for its rolling greens but also for its restaurant and bar, where club members meet in the evenings, she added.

Who Lives There

With its opulent homes, a high level of security and an emphasis on privacy, Anfa is most popular with business people and politicians, Bouskila said. Over the years, it has served as a meeting point for influential decision makers.

Hassan II Mosque is one of the largest in Africa.
Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

“The neighbourhood’s history is marked by major international meetings, most notably in 1943 when Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and the French generals Henri Giraud and Charles de Gaulle outlined the Allied strategy for the post-World War II era,” Leon said.

Notable Residents

Current notable residents include former Minister of Industry, Trade and New Technologies Moulay Hafid Elalamy and his family; President of the General Confederation of Moroccan Enterprises Chakib Laalej; and Steve O’Hana, president of the Morocco-Israel business council, according to Bouskila.

Outlook

Anfa has long commanded high prices thanks to its exclusivity, but in recent years the cost of homes in the historic neighbourhood has soared.

“Since the Covid-19 pandemic, prices have increased—they have never been so high,” Bouskila said. Strong demand for the limited housing stock in Anfa ensures that prices remain elevated in comparison with other areas of the city.

“Luxury products behave the same way around the world,” she said. “Crisis does not impact the price of a Hermès bag or a Ferrari.”



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I.M. Pei was the confident visionary behind such transformative structures as the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong and the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, but he was also humble, and for years resisted a retrospective of his work.

Pei, a Chinese-American architect who died in 2019 at 102 , would always protest any suggestion of a major exhibition, saying, “why me,” noting, too, that he was still actively at work, recalls his youngest son, Li Chung “Sandi” Pei. A decade ago, when Pei was in his mid-to-late 90s, he relented, finally telling Aric Chen, a curator at the M+ museum in Hong Kong, “all right, if you want to do it, go ahead,” Sandi says.

A sweeping retrospective, “I.M. Pei: Life Is Architecture,” will open June 29 at M+ in the city’s West Kowloon Cultural District. The exhibition of more than 300 objects, including drawings, architectural models, photographs, films, and other archival documents, will feature Pei’s influential structures, but in dialogue with his “social, cultural, and biographical trajectories, showing architecture and life to be inseparable,” the museum said in a news release.

As a Chinese citizen who moved to the U.S. in 1935 to learn architecture, Pei—whose full first name was Ieoh Ming—brought a unique cultural perspective to his work.

“His life is what’s really interesting and separates him from many other architects,” Sandi says. “He brought with him so many sensibilities, cultural connections to China, and yet he was a man of America, the West.”

Facade of the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© South Ho Siu Nam

Pei’s architectural work was significant particularly because of its emphasis on cultural institutions—from the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar—“buildings that have a major impact in their communities,” Sandi says. But he also did several urban redevelopment projects, including Kips Bay Towers in Manhattan and Society Hill in Philadelphia.

“These are all places for people,” Sandi says. “He believed in the importance of architecture as a way to bring and celebrate life. Whether it was a housing development or museum or a tall building or whatever—he really felt a responsibility to try to bring something to wherever he was working that would uplift people.”

A critical juncture in Pei’s career was 1948, when he was recruited from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (where he received a master’s degree in architecture) by New York real estate developer William Zeckendorf.

With Zeckendorf, Pei traveled across the country, meeting politicians and other “movers and shakers” from Denver and Los Angeles, to Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Boston, and New York. “He became very adept at working in that environment, where you had to know how to persuade people,” Sandi says.

During the seven-year period Pei worked with Zeckendorf, the developer fostered the growth of his architecture practice, supporting an office that included urban, industrial, graphic, and interior designers, in addition to architects and other specialists, Sandi says.

When Pei started his own practice in 1955, “he had this wealth of a firm that could do anything almost anywhere,” Sandi says. “It was an incredible springboard for what became his own practice, which had no parallel in the profession.”

According to Sandi, Chinese culture, traditions, and art were inherent to his father’s life as he grew up, and “he brought that sensibility when he came into America and it always influenced his work.” This largely showed up in the way he thought of architecture as a “play of solids and voids,” or buildings and landscape.

“He always felt that they worked together in tandem—you can’t separate one from the other—and both of them are influenced by the play of light,” Sandi says.

View of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, on the mesa, in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© Naho Kubota

Pei also often said that “architecture follows art,” and was particularly influenced by cubism, an artistic movement exploring time and space that was practiced in the early 20th century by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, among others. This influence is apparent in the laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, N.Y. “Those two buildings, if you look at them, have a play of solid and void, which are very cubistic,” Sandi says.

Yet Sandi argues that his father didn’t have a specific architectural style. Geometry may have been a consistent feature to his work, but his projects always were designed in response to their intended site. The resulting structure emerged as almost inevitable, he says. “It just was the right solution.”

Pei also intended his buildings “not only to be themselves a magnet for life,” but also to influence the area where they existed. “He never felt that a building stood alone,” Sandi says. “Urban design, urban planning, was a very important part of his approach to architecture, always.”

After he closed his own firm to supposedly “retire” in the early 1990s, Pei worked alongside Sandi and his older brother, Chien Chung (Didi) Pei, who died late last year, at PEI Architects, formerly Pei Partnership Architects. Pei would work on his own projects, with their assistance, and would guide his sons, too. The firm had substantial involvement in the Museum of Islamic Art, among other initiatives, for instance, Sandi says.

Working with his father was fun, he says. In starting a project, Pei was often deliberately vague about his intentions. The structure would coalesce “through a process of dialogue and sketches and sometimes just having lunch over a bottle of wine,” Sandi says. “He was able to draw from each of us who was working on the project our best efforts to help to guide [it] to some kind of form.”

The M+ retrospective, which will run through Jan. 5, is divided into six areas of focus, from Pei’s upbringing and education through to his work in real estate and urban redevelopment, art and civic projects, to how he reinterpreted history through design.

Sandi, who will participate in a free public discussion moderated by exhibition co-curator Shirley Surya on the day it opens, is interested “in the opportunity to look at my father anew and to see his work in a different light now that it’s over, his last buildings are complete. You can take a full assessment of his career.”

And, he says, “I’m excited for other people to become familiar with his life.”