Jason Oddy's photographs examine the relationship between mankind and the built environment. In his new series, Concrete Spring, he explores the extensive but little-known Algerian work of celebrated Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer (1907-2012), a key figure in the evolution of modern architecture.
Between 1969 and 1975 at the invitation of the country’s socialist president Houari Boumedienne, Niemeyer designed two enormously ambitious university campuses in Algeria, as well as ‘la Coupole’, a stand-alone Olympic sports hall. After the hard fought struggle for independence the president was keen the country should transform itself into a modern, outward looking nation.
Niemeyer considered the University of Mentouri, Constantine (1969-1972) one of his best projects, whilst the University of Science and Technology Houari Boumedienne (1972-1974), is no less impressive. Located on the outskirts of Algiers, its scores of sometimes angular, sometimes curved buildings push concrete towards its sculptural, even poetic limits.
In June 2013 Oddy spent three weeks with his 5x4 field camera exploring this remarkable modernist legacy. His photographs spotlight these forgotten or, at least, hard to access masterpieces of twentieth-century architecture. Critically, they also ask how these places which had been designed to forge and empower Algeria’s postcolonial generation, might in some way be relevant today.
After forty years of political stagnation, crushed hopes, and a bloody, fifteen-year civil war, it’s hard to match the Algeria of 2014 with the optimistic country Niemeyer encountered. Yet with the region in the throes of another great political upheaval, it seems both timely and poignant to examine this architecture of liberation again.
Jason Oddy is a photographer and writer who lives and works in London. Born in 1967, his internationally recognised work has been exhibited widely and can be found in a number of public, private and corporate collections.
Concrete Spring is produced in collaboration with Jason Oddy, University of Creative Arts, Farnham and UH Galleries, Hertfordshire, funded by Arts Council England.