Oscar Niemeyer (1907-2012), the great Brazilian architect, considered to be one of the key figures in the development of modern architecture, passed away on December 5, 2012, at the ripe age of 104 years. Niemeyer was best known for his design of civic buildings for Brasília, a planned city, which became Brazil’s capital in 1960, as well as his collaboration with other architects at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City and many other projects. His exploration of the aesthetic possibilities of reinforced concrete has highly influenced the architecture of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.Team Design Detail salutes the legendary architect, who recreated Brazil’s sensuous curves in reinforced concrete and built the capital of Brasilia on the empty central plains as a symbol of the nation’s future. Here we give a glimpse into his life, the philosophy he followed, and some of his notable woks. Oscar Niemeyer leaves a rich legacy of creative accomplishments, which would influence humankind for a long time to come.
“I am not attracted to straight angles or to the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man. I am attracted to free-flowing, sensual curves. The curves that I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean, and on the body of the beloved woman. Curves make up the entire Universe, the curved Universe of Einstein.”
Oscar Niemeyer’s ability to portray the realm of urban habitat in a modern perspective and to shape strategies for transition and continuity was quite remarkable. His unique ability to decipher design issues with a rational sense was equally remarkable and his distinctive touch of self-indulgence and lateral thinking gave rise to many a number of iconic architectural environments.
In his professional career spanning over eight decades, Niemeyer created numerous masterpieces and he continued to work almost before his death. His idiosyncratic buildings can be seen throughout the world, but his work is most commonly encountered in Brasilia that was built in the early 1960s.
Niemeyer was profoundly influenced by the works of master architects like Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. The innovative approaches propagated by the modernist movement were further given wings by the explorative approach and critical understanding of properties of reinforced concrete by the Brazilian architect. The elusive tectonic language developed by this master architect was highly influential on the architecture of the late 20th century and early 21st century.
The saying that successful people do things differently is well-justified in Niemeyer’s case. His life and works will, for long, serve as a source of inspiration to all enthusiasts of architecture and art. His simple yet non-conventional design philosophy truly advocates the higher purpose of architecture and helps us remember and cherish some of the exemplary and unique works he accomplished in his time.
Niemeyer believed that architecture had the ability to change life for the better. Perhaps his most famous quote, which not only describes his work but also his way of life, is: “I deliberately disregarded the right angle and rationalist architecture designed with ruler and square to boldly enter the world of curves and straight lines offered by reinforced concrete. This deliberate protest arose from the environment in which I lived, with its white beaches, its huge mountains, its old baroque churches, and the beautiful suntanned women.”
Some of the honours Niemeyer received include the Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architecture in 1970; the Pritzker Architecture Prize from Chicago’s Hyatt Foundation in 1988; the Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1998; and the Praemium Imperiale constituted by the Imperial Family of Japan on behalf of Japan Art Association in 2004.