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Óscar Niemeyer

Contenidos disponibles en español y en inglés - Availables resources in spanish and english - Compilador / Compiler: Jorge Tobías Colombo

. Obras / Works

. Biograph (English)
. Oscar Niemeyer: His legacy to American architecture (English)
.
Architect of optimism (English)

. Arquitecto de las curvas y de los grandes palacios (Español)

Biografía en fechas, obras y distinciones
(Español)

1907 Nace el 15 de diciembre en Río de Janerio, Brasil.
1922 Estudia en el Colégio dos Barnabitas Santo Antônio Maria Zaccaria.
1928 Termina la educación secundaria. Se casa con Annita Baldo.
1929 Se matricula en la Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes de Río de Janeiro.
1934 Diploma de ingeniero arquitecto.
1935 Trabaja en el estudio de Lucio Costa y Carlos Leão.
1936 Conoce a Le Corbusier y a Gustavo Capanema.
1939 Viaja con Lucio Costa a Nueva York.
1945 Ingresa en el Partido Comunista Brasileño.
1946 Invitado a dar un curso Yale se cancela su entrada a EE UU.
1947 Con permiso de entrada a EE UU viaja a Nueva York para desarrollar el proyecto de la sede de la ONU.
1950 Se publica en EE UU el libro "The Work of Oscar Niemeyer" de Stamo Papadaki.
1954 Viaja a Europa al participar en el proyecto de reconstrucción de Berlín.
1955 Funda la revista Módulo en Río de Janeiro. Jefe del Departamento de Arquitetura y Urbanismo de NOVACAP, encargado de la construcción de Brasília.
1961 Publica "Minha experiência em Brasília".
1962 Coordinador de la Escuela de Arquitectura de la UnB. Viaja al Líbano para proyectar una Feria Internacional y Permanente.
1963 Miembro honorario American Institute of Architects (AIA).
1964 Viajando por Israel le sorprende la noticia del golpe militar en Brasil.
1965 Se retira de la Universidad de Brasília en protesta contra la política universitaria. Viaja a París para una exposición de su obra en el Museo del Louvre.
1966 Publica "Quase memórias: Viagens".
1967 Al no poder trabajar en Brasil se instala en París.
1972 Abre despacho en París.
1975 Vuelve a publicarse la revista Módulo.
1978 Funda el Centro Brasil Democrático CEBRADE, del que es presidente.
1985 Vuelve a trabajar en Brasília.
1990 Junto con Luiz Carlos Prestes, se desliga del Partido Comunista Brasileño.
1993 Publica "Conversa de Arquiteto".
1995 Doctor Honoris Causa por las universidades de São Paulo y Minas Gerais.
2002 Exposición Oscar Niemeyer 90 años, en la Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume de París.

Óscar Niemeyer

PROYECTOS / Projects
1936-1943 Ministerio de Sanidad y Educación (con Le Corbusier y Lucio Costa), Río de Janeiro, Brasil.
1937 Obra do Berço, Río de Janeiro, Brasil.
1939 Pabellón de Brasil en la Feria Mundial, Nueva York, EE UU.
1940 Gran Hotel, Ouro Preto, Brasil.
1942-1944 Edificios en Pampulha, Belo Horizonte, Brasil.
1946 Banco Boavista, Río de Janeiro, Brasil.
1947 Centro Técnico de Aeronáutica, São José dos Campos, Brasil.
1947 Edificio de Naciones Unidas (con Le Corbusier), Nueva York, EE UU.
1950 Fábrica Duchen, Guarulhos, Brasil.
1950 Edificio Copan, São Paulo, Brasil.
1950 Edificio de apartamentos en el barrio de Hansa, Berlín, Alemania.
1951 Escuela Sara Kubitschek, Belo Horizonte, Brasil.
1951 Hotel Diamantina en Residencia Canavelas, Río de Janeiro, Brasil.
1951 Complejo Kubitschek, Belo Horizonte, Brasil.
1951-1955 Parque Ibirapuera, São Paulo, Brasil.
1953 Casa de Oscar Niemeyer en Gávea, Río de Janeiro, Brasil.
1954 Edificio de apartamentos, Belo Horizonte, Brasil.
1954 Museo de Caracas, Caracas, Venezuela.
1957 Palacio de la Alvorada, Brasília, Brasil.
1958 Congreso Nacional, Brasília, Brasil.
1958 Museo de la Fundación de Brasília, Brasília, Brasil.
1958 Palacio de Planalto y de la Suprema Corte, Brasília, Brasil.
1960 Instituto Central de Ciencias de la Universidad de Brasília, Brasília, Brasil.
1960 Edificio de Ceplan, Brasília, Brasil.
1964 Ciudad Negev, Negev, Israel.
1965 Palacio de los Arcos o de Itamaraty, Brasília, Brasil.
1965 Palacio de Brazaville, Brazaville, República del Congo.
1967 Proyecto de Aeropuerto, Brasília, Brasil.
1967 Sede del Partido Comunista Francés, París, Francia.
1968 Ministerio de Defensa, Brasília, Brasil.
1968 Centro cívico, Argel, Argelia.
1969 Universidad de Constantine, Constantine, Argelia.
1972 Bolsa de Bobigny, Bobigny, Francia.
1972 Casa de la Cultura, Le Havre, Francia.
1972 Centro de negocios, Miami, EE UU.
1973 Barrio de Athayde, Río de Janeiro, Brasil.
1980 Centro administrativo, Pernambuco, Brasil.
1982 Monumento a Juscelino Kubistchek, Brasília, Brasil.
1983 Passarela do Samba-Sambódromo, Río de Janeiro, Brasil.
1983-1986 Escuelas prefabricadas CIEP, Río de Janeiro, Brasil.
1985 Pantano en la Patria, Brasília, Brasil.

PREMIOS / Awards
1988 Pritzker Architecture Prize.
1998 Medalla de Oro Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).
2004 Praemium Imperiale.
 

Oscar Niemeyer: Arquitecto de las curvas y de los grandes palacios

 

Oscar Niemeyer, de 95 años, hizo el proyecto de Brasilia por un salario mínimo, decidió firmar algunos trabajos con el nombre completo, para homenajear a su abuelo, y se dedica una vez a la semana al estudio del cosmos. "Las ideas marxistas continúan perfectas, los hombres deberían ser más fraternos", dice el arquitecto Oscar Niemeyer, que trabaja todos los días en su oficina de Copacabana.

Oscar Niemeyer es conocido ante todo como arquitecto de Brasilia, capital del Brasil, que fue erigida a partir de la nada en los años 60. pero muchos otros proyectos lo han hecho célebre. Es el hombre que diseñó iglesias, pero que no obtuvo visa para los Estados Unidos; el hombre que construyó grandes monumentos para los obreros huelguistas, para los campesinos sin tierra. Es el arquitecto de la sede del Partido Comunista Francés en París etc.

Oscar Niemeyer no esconde sus opiniones: "No me callaré nunca. No esconderé nunca mis convicciones comunistas. Y quien me contacta como arquitecto conoce mis concepciones ideológicas. Durante mis conferencias, siempre he subrayado que la arquitectura no es lo esencial. Comparen la arquitectura con la vida, el ser humano, la lucha política, la contribución que hacemos todos a la sociedad para nuestros hermanos desheredados. ¿Qué representa la arquitectura con relación a la lucha por un mundo mejor, sin clases?".

Oscar Ribeiro de Almeida Niemeyer Soares. Es así como el arquitecto Oscar Niemeyer ha firmado algunos de sus últimos trabajos. Utilizar el nombre completo fue la forma que encontró para homenajear a su abuelo, el ministro del Tribunal Supremo Federal Antonio Augusto Ribeiro de Almeida, con quien vivió en la infancia y tuvo, según cuenta, los primeros ejemplos de solidaridad y justicia. "Mi abuelo fue un hombre útil y murió pobre", recuerda. "¡Qué orgullo! Hay tantos robando dinero público hoy". Inspirado en el ejemplo del abuelo entró a militar en el Partido Comunista Brasileño (PCB).

El presidente Kubischek le encargó el diseño de la nueva capital Brasilia. Con un salario de 40 mil cruceiros, absolutamente ridículo para la monumental tarea, Niemeyer exigió que el gobierno contratara a un puñado de amigos que, a primera vista, nada tenían que ver con la obra. Había un arquero del Flamengo y cuatro compañeros más "que estaban en la mierda y yo quería ayudar", confiesa.

A los 95 años, el arquitecto de Brasilia y de la sede de la Organización de Naciones Unidas (ONU), en Nueva York, considera que su mayor logro fue haber ingresado al PCB. Y con esa convicción, en 1945, donó su taller en la calle Conde Lages, en el centro de Río de Janeiro para la primera sede del comité metropolitano del partido. Años más tarde, también regalaría un apartamento a su amigo, el dirigente comunista Luis Carlos Prestes. "Las ideas marxistas siguen perfectas, los hombres deberían ser más fraternos", analiza.

En la arquitectura encontró la solución para no rebelarse al punto de participar en la lucha armada. "La solución natural es la curva, presente en todo, en el razonamiento, en el universo, en la democracia y en la vida", filosofa Niemeyer.

Como lo expresó el escritor comunista brasileño Jorge Amado: "Mientras algunos sólo se ocupan de la fabricación de armas que siembran la muerte y la destrucción, los arquitectos construyen casas, fábricas, hospitales, escuelas, universidades... Son la antítesis de la destrucción, de la pobreza y de la incomodidad. Oscar Niemeyer es el mejor símbolo de una arquitectura que es conciente de su papel social, su verdadera función".

"Fui llevado a la policía varias veces. El interrogatorio de siempre: Cuba, Fidel, artículos publicados en la Unión Soviética. Un día trabajábamos en los proyectos de los ministerios y, para facilitar los contactos, un oficial, antiguo conocido nuestro, nos servía de interlocutor. Un día me dijo: 'Fui llamado a Río. Usted va a ser apresado mañana. Dicen que dio dinero a un subversivo que anda escondido en Brasilia'. Al día siguiente, por precaución, fui con mi colega Italo Campofiorito a verificar si en la oficina había alguna cosa comprometedora. Y reímos sorprendidos: el primer libro que encontré era de poemas de mi camarada Marighella, con una dedicatoria muy fraternal para mí. No fui preso, dicen que así lo decidió el ministro".

En 1964, en un cuarto de hotel de Lisboa, se entera por la radio de que la dictadura militar había sido instaurada en Brasil. Su oficina en Río fue invadida y saqueada. Sus proyectos, tales como el aeropuerto de Brasilia, comenzaron a ser rechazados. Un decreto especial de De Gaulle le dio derecho a trabajar como arquitecto en Francia. En 1967, diseñó la sede del Partido Comunista Francés. Niemeyer sólo volvió a vivir definitivamente en Brasil a comienzos de los años 80, con la apertura política.

Con muchos proyectos, llega todos los días a su oficina, con vista hacia el mar de Copacabana, a las 9 de la mañana, y sólo vuelve a casa después de las 9 de la noche. "Me gusta sentirme útil", explica. Uno de sus últimos trabajos fue encargado por Fidel Castro: un monumento contra el bloqueo económico a Cuba.

En el portarretratos sobre la mesa, se ve al líder comunista Luis Carlos Prestes, en un local indefinido (un acto de protesta, se presume) y fecha incierta (el rostro es joven y altivo). "Prestes fue un gran líder, un gran brasileño. Una figura excepcional que dedicó toda su vida a nuestro pueblo".

"Estuve con él en París cuando volvió de la Unión Soviética y el vínculo con el partido ya era difícil. Después, mantuvimos el mismo contacto y la misma amistad hasta el último día. Fue una historia de lucha política llena de problemas, pero siempre vivida con mucho respeto. La memoria de Prestes fue siempre cultivada y engrandecida por quienes se ocuparon de ella. Desgraciadamente no ocurrió lo mismo con Stalin, a quien privaron de todo en sus últimos días. Basta interesarse por el asunto para sentir cómo fue de odiosa la campaña organizada contra él. Meses atrás, recibí la visita de un amigo ruso, comunista, descontento con lo que pasa en su país, pero que confía en que todo volverá al pasado, con el pueblo protegido y feliz, más pronto de lo que se piensa. Durante su conversación tan auténtica, quise saber lo que piensa hoy el pueblo ruso sobre Stalin. Y fue categórico: 'Estamos de acuerdo con todo lo que él dijo e hizo'. Y tenía razón. Quien se interese por la vida de ese gran líder soviético se va a sorprender con el ejemplo de determinación y coraje que representa. Desde los 14 años, Stalin estaba en el partido, cuando fue preso y enviado a Siberia. Después fue aquella actuación política decisiva, enviando armas para Mao Tse-Tung en China, para los republicanos durante la Guerra Civil Española, apoyando a todos los partidos comunistas del mundo. Y esto sin hablar de su victoria contra el nazismo, héroe de Stalingrado, figura extraordinaria para siempre grabada en el corazón del pueblo soviético. Todo esto explica su determinación contra quienes querían cambiar el sentido de la Revolución de Octubre, por la cual lucharon y murieron miles de camaradas. De lejos es muy fácil criticar. Ya escuché a un sujeto hablando mal de Mao Tse-Tung y de Fidel. Fidel, un sujeto fantástico que unió a América Latina, un sujeto que liberó a Cuba de la presión norteamericana. La revolución cubana fue fantástica. De modo que la gente tiene que respetar a esas personas".

- ¿Pero entonces por qué fracasó el modelo? ¿Por qué cayó el comunismo?

-"El comunismo no cayó. El capitalismo sí va a desaparecer y por esto mismo se muestra cada vez más violento y contradictorio, desafiando principios ya establecidos como el de la autodeterminación de los pueblos, antes tan respetado. Quien conoce el patriotismo del pueblo soviético, quien lee los grandes clásicos donde éste está siempre presente, no puede dudar de que pronto todo estará de vuelta otra vez. No un comunismo diferente, como algunos sugieren, sino el comunismo que los más pobres conocieron y que les garantizó un apoyo y una solidaridad que desaparecieron. El mundo va a cambiar, mi amigo. La miseria es demasiado grande para no ser atendida".

- ¿Dónde comenzó el fin?

- "El fin del capitalismo comenzó hace mucho tiempo".

- ¿Cuál es su idea de Gorbachov?

- "Es una mierda, sobran los comentarios".

- ¿Cómo ve usted la situación actual de la izquierda? ¿Cómo cree que esto va a evolucionar en los próximos años? ¿Acabó el comunismo? ¿Acabó el socialismo? ¿Venció el pensamiento único, o esto es una cosa que va más...?

- "Lo importante es que tengamos siempre la idea de un mundo mejor dentro de nuestros corazones. La vida es la que nos va a guiar, concientes de que todo tiene un límite. Si la miseria se multiplica y la oscuridad nos envuelve, ahí vale la pena encender una luz y arriesgar. Fue lo que Fidel hizo con la Revolución Cubana, convirtiéndose en el gran líder de América Latina".

- ¿Ve hipótesis de guerra?

- "Por todas partes. Hasta en la Amazonia puede ocurrir si la invadieran, como se dio en el Vietnam".

Hay consignas rayadas en las paredes del enorme salón de Niemeyer: "Cuando la vida se degrada y la esperanza huye del corazón de los hombres, la revolución es el camino a seguir", por ejemplo. No es necesario ser perito de alguna policía secreta para adivinar al autor del crimen. El trazo irregular, como si fuese puntuado de minúsculas e infinitas curvas, lo denuncia.

Biography: Oscar Niemeyer

Oscar Niemeyer was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on the 15th December 1907. He graduated from the Escola Nacional de Belas Artes in Rio de Janeiro in 1934.

At this time he joined a team of Brazilian architects collaborating with Le Corbusier on a new Ministry of Education and Health in Rio de Janeiro. He worked with Lucio Costa and Le Corbusier till 1938 on this project.

While working on this project he met the mayor of Brazil's wealthiest central state, Juscelino Kubitschek, who would later become President of Brazil. As President, he appointed Niemeyer to be the chief architect of Brasilia, a project which occupied all of his time for many years.

Only one year later, 1939, he and Costa designed the Brazilian pavilion at the New York World Fair. The series of buildings Niemeyer created till 1942 were heavily influenced by the Brazilian baroque style in architecture.

Although associated primarily with his major masterpiece, Brasilia, the capital city of Brazil, he had achieved early recognition from one of his mentors, Le Corbusier, going on to collaborate with him on one of the most important symbolic structures in the world, the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

In the 1950's, he designed an Aeronautical Research Center near Sao Paulo. In Europe, he did an office building for Renault and in Italy, the Mondadori Editorial Office in Milan and the FATA Office Building in Turin. In Algiers, he designed the Zoological Gardens, the University of Constantine, and the Foreign Office.

From 1957 till 1959 Niemeyer was appointed architectural advisor to Nova Cap- an organisation charged with implenting Luis Costa´s plans for Brazil´s new capitol. The following year he become Nova Cap´s chief architect, designing most of the city´s important buildings. The epoch of Niemeyers career, these buildings mark a period of creativity on modern symbolism.

Five years later, in 1964, his political affiliation with the communist party forced him into exile in France. There he constructed the building for the French communist party. With the end of the dictatorship he returned to Brazil, teaching at the university of Rio de Janeiro and working in private practice.

He received the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architectur in 1970. Influenced by Le Corbusier, and using the material and building language of the International Style he enriched it with the natural, flowing curves of South American architecture and developed his typical fluid and sculptural style.

Recognized as one of the first to pioneer new concepts in architecture in this hemisphere, his designs are artistic gesture, with underlying logic and substance. His pursuit of great architecture linked to roots of his native land has resulted in new plastic forms and a lyricism in buildings, not only in Brazil, but around the world. For his lifetime achievements, the Pritzker Architecture Prize is bestowed.

Although semi-retired, he still works at the drawing board and welcomes young architects from all over the world. He hopes to instill in them the sensitivity to aesthetics that allowed him to strive for beauty in the manipulation of architectural forms.

His own House - ‘53

The house that Niemeyer built for himself in 1953 is an excellent example of Freeform Modernism, and an example that could only exist in Brazil. While the thin, flat roof slab and floor-to-ceiling glass walls are certainly central elements of many classic Modernist buildings, particularly Mies’s Farnsworth House and Philip Johnson’s Glass House, the curvilinear outlines in Niemeyer’s residence are uniquely expressive of Brazilian heritage. The Colonial Baroque architecture that dominated Brazil before is very curvaceous, as is its local artwork. Moreover; the eroded hills, winding rivers and shorelines, and rolling landscape of Brazil itself are a clear inspiration for the forms in Niemeyer’s work. As the architect himself states

1943:          Residencia Peixoto

1943:          Itamatary Palace

1959:          Pantheon

1960:          Catedral Metropolitana

1960:          Congreso Nacional

1972:          Le Havre Cultural Centre

1996:          Apartamentos Building (Rio)

1996:          Lady of Fatima

The Creator's Words

"Architecture must express the spirit of the technical and social forces that are predominant in a given epoch; but when such forces are not balances, the resulting conflict is prejudicial to the content of the work and to the work as a whole. Only with this in mind may we understand the nature of the plans and drawings which appear in this volume. I should have very much liked to be in a position to present a more realistic achievement: a kind of work which reflects not only refinements and comfort but also a positive collaboration between the architect and the whole society."

"I have always," says Niemeyer, "accepted and respected all other schools of architecture, from the chill and elemental structures of Mies van der Rohe to the imagination and delirium of Gaudi. I must design what pleases me in a way that is naturally linked to my roots and the country of my origin.

Architect of optimism - Angel Gurria-Quintana - Published: April 13 2007 20:13

Centenary years are a common excuse to celebrate an artist’s work. Centenary celebrations honouring artists who are still alive - and professionally active - are much rarer.

Brazil’s most famous architect, Oscar Niemeyer, will turn 100 in December. This has already been a busy year for him, with commemorative exhibitions opening throughout the country and homage being paid from all quarters of public life. After recovering from surgery following a fall late last year, he is not shying away from public attention.

Born in Rio de Janeiro, Niemeyer’s prominence rests on his spectacular attempts to tropicalise the modernist ideals embodied by architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier. His native city’s hilly landscape and female denizens are said to have inspired a love of meandering lines. As he wrote in a poem:

It is not the right angle that attracts me,

Nor the hard, inflexible straight line, man-made.

What attracts me are free and sensual curves.

The curves in my country’s mountains,

In the sinuous flow of its rivers,

In the beloved woman’s body.

In practice, this has produced stunningly sculptural buildings that reveal a commitment to plasticity over function.

Niemeyer shot to fame when he and fellow architect Lucio Costa erected Brazil’s pavilion at New York’s 1939 World Fair. The following year Juscelino Kubitschek, mayor of the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte, asked him to design a building complex around a reservoir in the suburb of Pampulha. The project included a church, yacht club, casino and dance hall. It turned out to be a crucial commission. When Kubitschek became president in 1956 and envisioned a new inland capital for the country - Brasilia - he asked Costa to plan it and Niemeyer to build it.

The Pampulha complex was fundamental for another reason: it was the first of Niemeyer’s large-scale projects to employ reinforced concrete in free, unsupported curves - a signature of most of his buildings since. At the time, the church of Sao Francisco de Assis, with its undulating vaulted roof, pushed the boundaries of engineering and material usage. It remains (after recent restoration) one of Niemeyer’s most iconic and graceful works.

Bigger commissions followed, both at home and abroad. Then came that rarest of opportunities: an invitation to create from scratch, almost single-handedly, a new capital. Inaugurated in 1960, Niemeyer’s Brasilia is a bold essay in the use of volume and space. His National Congress mixes domed and saucer-shaped structures with a vertical tower block. The foreign ministry seems to levitate over water. Snaking ramps and tapering columns give the monumental edifices, including a cathedral and the presidential palace, an unexpected weightlessness.

Age has not slowed him down. In the past few months alone, Niemeyer has completed, or unveiled plans for, projects in Brazil, France, Spain and Cuba. One of his latest - a monument in Caracas, Venezuela, to honour the nation’s liberator Simon Bolivar - was commissioned recently by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. ”I’m as busy as anyone else,” Niemeyer tells me when we finally meet in his Rio de Janeiro studio. ”I like working. To spend time on a project is no sacrifice.”

Niemeyer keeps himself busy in the penthouse of a 10-storey art-deco building, once known as ”The Mae West” due to its voluptuously curved bay windows. The view from inside the studio is breathtaking: Sugar Loaf Mountain, on the far left; Copacabana Fort, on the far right; and Copacabana beach connecting them like a sun-kissed necklace.

I had arranged an interview through Vera, Niemeyer’s long-time secretary and now (as of November) second wife. I arrive on time, and an assistant asks me to wait: the architect is in a meeting. A male nurse sits in one of the two alcoves overlooking the seafront. Curled up floor plans are piled on a Niemeyer-designed chaise longue. A sleek rocking chair, also designed by him, looks tempting, but too beautiful, to sit on.

There is plenty of time to admire the line drawings scrawled on the waiting area’s walls - sketches of his most famous buildings and female nudes. I ask the nurse about Niemeyer’s health. ”Good for someone his age,” he tells me. I notice a filing cabinet with shallow drawers marked ”Drawings for political work” and ”Drawings of women”.

Laughter emanates from the architect’s inner sanctum. Out comes Canadian rock idol Bryan Adams, who is in town for a concert and has stopped by to pay his respects to Brazil’s living treasure. I continue to wait as other visitors with more pressing business rush in to see Niemeyer ahead of me. A woman explains, apologetically, that she had just arrived from Cuba with urgent news from Fidel and Raul Castro - Niemeyer recently designed a statue to be unveiled near Havana’s airport, a gift for Fidel’s 80th birthday.

More than an hour after the appointed time, I am ushered into the architect’s small, book-lined office. He is slumped in his chair, unshaven and looking rather frail. He seems annoyed by my presence. A cigarette smoulders in an ashtray. ”You’re late,” he says, ”I’m too busy for interviews.” I remonstrate. He concedes: ”As long as it doesn’t take you more than 15 minutes.” Idle conversation is out of the question. ”You are almost 100 years old,” I begin, stating the obvious. He interrupts, tersely: ”Voce e uma merda.”

To be called a shit so soon into the interview does not bode well for the remainder of my 15 minutes. What I wanted to say, I explain, was that in nearly a century of life and 70 years of work, he must have achieved things he was proud of. ”No, I’m a human being like any other. I worked. I lived. I had fun. I’ll be gone. That’s it. There’s nothing special about me.”

Surely there are works of his that have caused him some satisfaction? Maybe Pampulha, he replies, since it became a precedent for the construction of the new capital. ”Brasilia marked a period of optimism in the country,” he says wistfully. ”To see a city built so dramatically gave Brazilians a sense of renewed confidence.”

He remains determinedly self-effacing about his own role. ”I had some good opportunities. I was lucky to have had the chance to do things differently. Architecture is about surprise.”

Niemeyer’s ambition to surprise remains undiminished in his recent work. ”Oscar Niemeyer 10/100”, a retrospective exhibition on show at Rio de Janeiro’s Paco Imperial, focuses on 40 projects completed between 1996 and 2006. There are models and sketches of his spaceship-like contemporary art museum in Niteroi (1996), of the new auditorium for Sao Paulo’s Ibirapuera Park (1999), of his summer pavilion at London’s Serpentine Gallery (2003) and of Brasilia’s national library (2006). The soaring curves, winding ramps and gargantuan vaults are still there, though attention to detail is less evident - some critics have observed that Niemeyer’s latest works are poorly executed variations on previous efforts.

The exhibition also offers an overview of his early career, displaying models of highlights such as his collaboration with Le Corbusier on the United Nations headquarters in New York (1952), the communist party headquarters in Paris (1967), the exquisite Mondadori building outside Milan (1968), and the University of Constantine, in Algeria (1969). Alongside the strictly architectural work, a few of his sketches of female nudes are shown in public for the first time.

The common denominator of Niemeyer’s old and new projects is his consistent exploration of reinforced concrete’s versatility, his drive to create structures that seem lighter even as they become larger. ”My ambition has always been to reduce a building’s support to a minimum,” he reflects. ”The more we diminish supporting structures, the more audacious and important the architecture is. That has been my life’s work.” For that work he was awarded the 1988 Pritzker Prize.

Long a member of the communist party, Niemeyer is a vocal defender of left-wing governments in Brazil and abroad. His Bolivar monument, in Caracas, will be shaped like a lance pointing at the US. In an accompanying text to the Paco Imperial exhibition, he writes: ”Only in politics I am intransigent and radical - I am against Bush’s murderous empire, and against anyone who in this country opposes [president] Lula”.

Can politics and architecture mix? ”Architecture doesn’t matter,” Niemeyer tells me. ”Someone who is out on the streets protesting is doing a much more important job than I am. Politics matters. Changing the world matters because we live in a shit world.” What, I ask, can architecture do to change the world? Nothing, he replies.

Yet one of his current projects betrays an entrenched idealism - he has plans for a university designed to eradicate barriers between intellectual disciplines. ”To eliminate the specialist man”, he says solemnly, as if this worthy humanist ideal were not an ancient one.

There is a favourite phrase of Niemeyer’s. I have heard him say it at interviews, and read it in his books. Even as my 15 minutes run out, he is not prepared to let me go without reiterating it for my benefit: ”Life is more important than architecture.”

”Oscar Niemeyer 10/100: Producao Contemporanea 1996-2006” is on at Paco Imperial, Praca XV de Novembro 48, Rio de Janeiro, until April 29.

Oscar Niemeyer, his legacy to American architecture

The grand vision and distinguished career of Brazilian Oscar Niemeyer provide continued inspiration to architectural designers in America and throughout the world.

The Ecole des Beaux Arts and Bauhaus in Europe have not been the only source of inspiration for architectural design in America. Perhaps the grandest of visions, one that always sets the architects of America to dreaming, has been that of Oscar Niemeyer, manifest in his work in Argentina and Brazil.

Niemeyer, in collaboration with Lucio Costa, was commissioned to design an entire city from scratch, Brasilia, to be the capital city of Brazil. The project was to be their life work, and is still not complete. Despite this, the concept remains vibrantly alive. Many of the lessons Niemeyer and Costa worked through in the Fifties nearly half a century later are still informing urban structural design in America.

Niemeyer and Costa made their first mark in 1937 with the design of the Ministry of Education building in Rio de Janeiro. Working with architectural icon, Le Corbusier, as project consultants, they elaborated what became known as "brise soleil", sun screens on building facades that appreciably enhanced the aesthetic element yet were fully functional. "Sun, space, verdure" was a Corbusian axiom even then, and this building integrated the three in a profoundly successful design.

In later years, Niemeyer again collaborated with Le Corbusier in the design of the United Nations Headquarters building in New York City.

The "de novo" city is an architect's dream; to design an entire city. In the aftermath of the second world war, opportunities seemed to abound, for entire cities had virtually been laid waste. Coventry was an example. Unfortunately, architectural vision can be blurred by public myopia and bureaucratic conservatism, with the result that the vision is lost to tract houses and banal cubes of offices. Brasilia was different; and the architectural world watched.

Niemeyer and Costa had seen the congestion of New York City traffic, streets meant for pedestrians choked with cars and trucks, and they had seen the labyrinthine chaos of Los Angeles' freeways. In the early Fifties, owning and driving a car, the bigger the better, was as culturally valued in North America as owning one's own home, and as feasible.

Niemeyer and Costa decided that Brasilia would, foremost, be designed for cars. The Niemeyer/Costa planning in that regard remains required reading for fledgling traffic engineers throughout urban America.

In pure design, the
architects opted for contrasts on a monumental scale; not surprising, considering the first structures in the phased construction program were government and other public buildings. Each building unfolded as part of a holistic design. That housing Congress was two twin towers, variations on Miesian principles but adjacently balanced by a magnificent lower bowl echoing Nervi's designs, in which to house Brazil's Chamber of Deputies.

Balance and purity of line – the city from the air would be an architectural tapestry; from the ground an accessible, functional and aesthetically awesome monument to purity of form in a durable human context.

Brasilia was envisioned to incorporate all that was new in materials and design with the purpose, power and authority of nationhood, and do so in a living environment for more than a million people.

Among the first buildings constructed was the Alvorada Palace. Here, concrete loggia, curved slimly at the top, broadening strongly at the bottom to support the structure, are significant features. Adjacent to the Palace, smaller yet not dwarfed, is a shell-shaped chapel that swoops to a slim cross atop a pinnacle of concrete; fragility and strength juxtaposed in breathtaking contrast, yet still integrated one into the other. Structural lines flow smoothly, without jarring the eye. Niemeyer and Costa envisioned this across the city.

For an architect, Niemeyer had the dream commission. He did not disappoint. Architects of America have learned from him the vital need to integrate design to environment in a manner which does not merely complement what's already there, but takes what's already there to new heights of expressions. That, indeed, is Oscar Niemeyer's legacy to America.

Obras / Works


Casa das canoas


Museo de Arte Moderno de Río de Janeiro, Brasil

 


Teatro popular de Niteroi, Brasil


Catedral de Brasilia

 


 

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