The Picasso of concrete, the concrete poet or the traditionalist for tomorrow. Just to name some of the nicknames that were given to Oscar Niemeyer, the world famous Brazilian architect who died on Wednesday 5th of December at the age of 104 in Rio de Janeiro.
As the world oldest active architect, Niemeyer worked almost till his dead – even in his bed in the hospital. On his 103th birthday, on the 15th of December 2010, he inaugurated his building for the Oscar Niemeyer Foundation in Niteroi. The isle on the other side of the Guanabara bay in Rio de Janeiro also hosts a theatre and museum by Niemeyer, which is regarded as his best work and often compared to a UFO.
After his graduation as an engineer Niemeyer did his internship in the offices of Lucio Costa (1935) and Le Corbusier (1936). Together with Costa and Affonso Eduardo Reidy Niemeyer created the ministry of Education and Health in Rio de Janeiro. Le Corbusier was advising the team.
Although Niemeyer is surely influenced by the famous French-Swiss architect, he developed a more liberated style in concrete. For this he was inspired by the Brazilian baroque, the exuberant mentality of the Brazilians and… the round curves of women.
It’s just this the Beleza team has discovered in the Copan-building in São Paulo, which is home to almost 1200 apartments. It’s more or less builded in the same period of Le Corbusier’s Unité d’habitation in Marseille, but the building by Niemeyer has a jaunty touch.
In his book ‘The curves of time’ (1998) he wrote: “Right angles don’t attract me. Nor straight, hard and inflexible lines created by man. What attracts me are free and sensual curves. The curves we find in mountains, in the waves of the sea, in the body of the woman we love."
Niemeyer’s name will forever be linked to Brasilia, the futuristic looking capital of Brazil since 1960. To open up the vast interior of Brazil president Juscelino Kubitschek decided to move the capital from Rio to Brasilia. Lucio Costa was hired to develop the layout, which he modelled after an aeroplane. Niemeyer was asked to design most of the important buildings, such as the cabinet ministries, the monumental dome of the national museum and the huge cathedral, conceived as a flower of concrete.
The city, which was constructed in only four year, is till today the subject of many architectural discussions. Art critic Robert Hughes even called it a “utopian horror”, because the city is too monumental and not made on a human scale. Up to Niemeyer, the city is conceived as “a work of art that should cause the emotion of newness. Maybe you don’t like it, but it’s unique.”
Outside of Brazil Niemeyer builded the headquarters of the United Nations in New York, the Serpentine gallery summer pavilion in Hyde Park, the cultural centre Le Vulcan in Le Havre and the Communist party headquarters in Paris. He builded this during his stay in France, where he went after the 1964 coup and the following 21 years military dictatorship in Brazil.
With Niemeyer the world has lost one of the most important architects of the 20th century, who helped to shape our vision of the future. He received the most prestigious architectural prices, such as the Pritzker Prize (1988) and the gold medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects (1998). And he influenced many architects, including Zaha Hadid, Tadao Ando and Christian de Portzamprac.
Niemeyer died in the Botafogo hospital in Rio de Janeiro, the city where he was born in 1907. In the Brazilian city Curitiba you can find the Museu Oscar Niemeyer about his work.
In 2010, the Belgian artist Ann Veronica Janssens made a work about Oscar Niemeyer. You can see the video here.