On an expansive flat plateau with views across to the city sit sculptural concrete forms - a pillar for a pencil, curved waves like the wings of the bird or the waves of the ocean, circular pools like ink wells. Oscar Niemeyer (1907 – 2012) considered the University of Mentouri in Constantine in Algeria built between 1969 and 1972 as one of his best projects: “I was reluctant to create another university campus; rather, I wanted this one to reflect contemporary architectural practice”.
Perhaps best known for his designs for the new capital of Brazilia and for his collaboration on the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, Oscar Niemeyer, who by then was an exile from his home country of Brazil and had established an office in Paris, was commissioned in 1968 by Houari Boumediene, Algeria’s socialist president, to help transform the county which had only gained independence six years earlier into a new modern nation for the modern world through two new university campuses – the University of Mentouri in Constantine and the Houari Boumediene University of Science and Technology on the outskirts of Algiers plus the Olympic sports hall “La Coupole”.
Today, these campuses remain much as Niemeyer left them, with decay through time, neglect, vegetation growth and the effect of earthquake. The curves and sculptural shapes of the concrete architecture have been caught by the photographer Jason Oddy in “Concrete Spring: Oscar Niemeyer, Algeria and The Architecture of Revolution” on show in the Embassy of Brazil in London, an exhibition organised by Laurent Delaye Art Projects in collaboration with the Embassy and Coya London.
“I was drawn to this architecture because of its relevance to now. Niemeyer’s architecture was trying to do then what these political movements in the region are trying to do now; to open up societies and to improve democracy………Niemeyer’s spaces are very democratic – they have a very democratic feel to them, and were built by Niemeyer to foster a democratic attitude between student bodies and between faculties. As an example, the Humanities Block at the University of Mentouri was designed with no barriers between departments, to try and remove hierarchies.’ (Jason Oddy)
University designers are still seeking to achieve many of Niemeyer’s aspirations fifty years later.