When I was asked to take part in the photography residency ‘Le patrimoine culturel et architecturel algérois’ I began thinking aboutAlgiers’ recent architectural heritage. Researching the scant material available in the British Library I came across two extraordinary post-colonial projects that seemed to encompass the spirit of the newly independentAlgeria.
The Coupole inAlgiers’ Olympic Park is a sports arena that looks like it has landed from outer space. Whilst the University of Science and Technology, Houari Boumediene is a startling agglomeration of sculptural concrete forms. Both were designed a decade or so after independence. The university opening its doors in 1974, the Coupole in 1975. Today these wondrously ambitious buildings seem to speak of another age. Their inimitable Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer, a lifelong communist whose own political outlook doubtless found favour withAlgeria’s socialist government. Bad timing (or at least a lack of time) meant that I was unable to access the interior of the Coupole. It remained a mystery to me, a blob in the North African landscape every bit as alien as its nickname ‘the flying saucer ‘ would suggest.
I had more luck with the Houari Boumediene campus. After just a little asking I was kindly granted permission to photograph it. Once inside the overriding question the place seemed to pose was, ‘To what extent had the early ambition of this utopia in concrete survived?’ The composite work ‘From Right to Left ‘ is a response to this question. Made in the university’s library and referencing both the Arabic convention of writing andAlgeria’s move from a colonial to a socialist government, it in turn asks how knowledge (and in the context of the Houari Boumediene university specifically scientific and technical knowledge) might advance a given society.
Elsewhere I stumbled across an empty trade exhibition hall, located in a tent just beneathAlgiers’ most unmistakable landmark, the Monument des Martyrs. ‘Looking Both Ways’ calls attention to the conventions of depicting place whilst also suggesting that this colourful cloth and plastic marquee is symptomatic of today’s globalised economy, one in which every country must look not just inwards but outwards as well.
‘Monument’ depicts the aforementioned Monument des Martyrs. Seen through the gauze of the trade hall’s ribbed plastic windows the monument becomes as indistinct as the history it commemorates will one day too.