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Original Creators: Architectural Hero Oscar Niemeyer

We take a look at some iconic artists from numerous disciplines who have left an enduring and indelible mark on today’s creators.
January 16, 2012, 9:58pm

Image credit: André Vieira

Each week we pay homage to a select "Original Creator" – an iconic artist from days gone by whose work influences and informs today's creators. These are artists who were innovative and revolutionary in their fields. Bold visionaries and radicals, groundbreaking frontiersmen and women who inspired and informed culture as we know it today. This week: Oscar Niemeyer.

"It's not the right angle that attracts me, nor the straight line—stiff, inflexible, created by men. What really attracts me is the free, sensual curve. The curve I see on the sinuous course of our rivers, on the clouds in the sky, on your favorite woman's body. The universe is entirely made of curves.—Oscar Niemeyer

If you’re familiar with the curvaceously-inspired work of 104-year-old Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, then you might know that he designed several of the most famous buildings in Brasília, the capital of Brazil, like the amazing Copan Building in São Paulo, and the Biennial Pavillion (the venue of our 2011 São Paulo event).

“My architecture is very simple: I want to do it differently. I want to use concrete in its fullness. The primary quality of an art piece is the amazement, the surprise. It's the same with architecture—it's the architectonic spectacle.”—Niemeyer

Niemeyer was never interested in conceiving merely functional projects. His goal was to stir the emotions of those who looked upon one of his buildings—600 of which are spread around the world. When he was a child, he loved to draw and his fluid sketches are still his most easily recognizable signature trait. A self-professed Communist (and former President of the Brazilian Communist Party), he always spoke up for social equality, even though he admits that his work isn’t normally enjoyed by the poor, "but they can stop, look, have a moment of pleasure, see something different. For now, only people who have money use architecture. The others are fucked up in the favelas (slums)," he said in a film directed by Fabiano Maciel.

Brasília, Bossa Nova, and the new Brazil

The project that put Niemeyer on the map as a groundbreaking architect was the conception of the Pampulha neighborhood in Belo Horizonte, located in the state of Minas Gerais, at the request of then-mayor (and soon-to-be president) Juscelino Kubistchek. Niemeyer introduced curves through reinforced concrete, "a more plastic, different architecture… An invention, like Le Corbusier would say."

São Francisco de Assis Church in Belo Horizonte

Years later, after Kubitschek had become president, he assigned Niemeyer to work on one of the boldest projects of his career: a new Federal District for Brazil, the new city of promise: Brasília. The elements he created, which you can see in the Praça dos Três Poderes (the Three Powers Plaza) and the columns at the Palácio da Alvorada presidential palace, have become icons of modern Brazilian architecture. Niemeyer’s work was instrumental in shaping 50s and 60s Brazilian culture, when the country was undergoing a period of renewal, and right about the same time the music of Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes was starting to tell the world about this new Brazil.

Praça dos Três Poderes

Palácio da Alvorada

After that, the architect was invited to work all over the world, designing the French Communist Party headquarters, the former office for the L'Humanité newspaper, and the Havré Place, all in Paris:

French Communist Party headquarters; Photo source.

Rio de Janeiro, his beloved hometown, where he was born and still works every day in his Copacabana studio, is where most of his work is found. The Niterói Contemporary Art Museum was built by a cliff, where you can see the meandering cityscape.

Currently Niemeyer is directing the Sambadrome refurbishment for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. He also publishes a magazine called Nosso Caminho ("Our Path"), dedicated to architecture and arts in general. Recently, he lamented the shutting down of one of his latest projects built in Spain, the Cultural Center of Avilés, launched just one year prior and shuttered due to the administrators' excessive expenses. But Niemeyer is not one to be discouraged by life’s inevitable setbacks: "Life is about crying and laughing your entire life."

You can learn more about the iconic architect by watching the Motherboard.TV documentary.