Nouakchott, Mauritania, Africa
Year1957latitude: 18° 5'
longitude: -15° 58'
Initiator(s)Government of Mauritania
Planning organizationGovernor mouragues SMUH (Secretariat des mission d'Urbanismeet d'Habitat) BCEOM (French Planning agency) SDAU (Swiss Planning bureau, master plan for urban planning and development)
Nationality initiator(s)Mauritanian
Designer(s) / Architect(s)
Design organizationHirsch Cerutti Lainville SDAU
Inhabitants958,399 (2013)
Target population15,000
Town website
Town related links

type of New Town: > scale of autonomy
New Town
Company Town
> client
Private Corporation
Public Corporation
> policy
Until 1960, Mauritania was ruled remotely by the French from Saint-Louis, Senegal. After winning independence, Mauritanian President Moktar Ould Daddah chose Nouakchott as the site for a new capital that would reflect the nascent country’s modernity and unity. Plans for the New Town were modest, with an original target population of just 15,000. That number has proven to be grossly underestimated, as climate variability and desertification have driven nearly one-third of all Mauritanians (roughly one million), to the seaside capital.

As a result, Nouakchott is known for its kébbés or informal settlements, with an estimated 80% of residents living in slums (UN-Habitat 2014). Nouakchott is also threatened by rising sea levels, and government officials have estimated that the capital could be entirely submerged by 2030. Additionally, the non-renewable freshwater reservoir below the city is expected to run dry by 2050, compounding the city’s already severe challenges.

Urban Fabric 

Since there was rapid urbanisation, the urban landscape had a few tall buildings, and the rest were mainly one-storey buildings. The city is divided into nine arrondissements, sub-divided into alphabetised lots. Planning considered commerce and other economic activities to be outside of the city. The central business district was planned with broad streets and a grid-like structure with new Cinquième Quartier (Fifth District) nearby as the open-air market and residential area. 

Nouakchott is built around a large tree-lined street, and Avenue Gamal Abdel Nasser runs northeast through the city centre from the airport. It divides the city into two parts, with the residential areas in the north and the medina quarter, along with the kebbe, a shanty town formed due to the displacement of people from the desert. The kebbe consists of cement buildings that are built overnight and made to look permanent to avoid destruction by the authorities


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