Portfolio: Jason Oddy photographs Oscar Niemeyer's epic university campuses in Algeria


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The Independent Culture

When Oscar Niemeyer died at the end of 2012, coruscating tributes were paid to the visionary architect's work around the world, from his futuristic remodelling of Brasilia to the breathtakingly sinuous headquarters of the Communist Party in France.

Yet coverage of his buildings in Algeria was scarce to be seen.

While in exile following the military takeover of Brazil in 1964, Niemeyer was approached by Algeria's socialist president to help transform the country, fresh from winning its war of independence from France, into a modern, forward-looking nation.

The Brazilian completed two epic university campuses:Mentouri in Constantine (pictured above), and La Coupole, a sports hall that resembles a flying saucer.

Designed to empower the post-colonial generation, the photographer Jason Oddy felt these buildings – largely forgotten on a global scale – were prime for re-evaluation, following the end of the country's brutal civil war, as well as the Arab Spring that began in neighbouring Tunisia in 2010.

Could these edifices, built with a magnanimity of scale and poeticism for the people, spark anew the flames of democracy in an authoritarian land?

Oddy is unsure: "When I talked to an architecture student there, he knew quite a lot about the ambition Niemeyer had for the buildings, but when I put it to him that they could inform political debate in the country today, he looked quite nonplussed. These conversations are so off the radar, they're not even being thought about. For now, the structures aren't there to bring these questions into play."

'Concrete Spring' is at Smiths Row, Bury St Edmunds, to 15 March. Oddy will talk about the project at the gallery on Wednesday from 6pm. The exhibition will then show at the University of Hertfordshire Galleries from 25 March to 3 May