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In December of 2012, the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer died at the age of 104. He was so beloved and respected by his countrymen that he became a living myth and a national symbol, even before his death, an honor he shared with legendary musician Tom Jobim and soccer superstar Pelé. After his demise, the Brazilian Government decreed seven days of official mourning, and he received posthumous honors reserved only for the Presidents of the South American nation.
His architectural ideas have been studied and researched by the most reputable scholars, but no one like he could define them with the poetic spirit found in every one of his buildings. “It is not the right angle that attracts me, nor the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man. What attracts me is the free and sensual curve — the curve that I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuous course of its rivers, in the body of the beloved woman. Of curves is made the entire universe, Einstein`s curved universe “.
In 1934, Niemeyer graduated in architecture and took French-Swiss rationalist architect Le Courbusier as a point of reference, a place of departure. He worked as his assistant and collaborator for a few years and together they signed relevant projects such as the headquarters of the Ministry of Education in Rio de Janeiro, opened in 1936 and the principal building of the United Nations in New York in 1952. He soon emancipated from the man whom he considered the father of modern architecture, and, inspired by the admiration he felt for his mentor, Niemeyer developed his own semantics, which represented a breaking point in the prevailing modernist movement of the first half of the 20th century.
Picasso’s famous phrase, “if inspiration comes, may it find me working”, could well have been authored by Niemeyer, a tireless creator who kept busy until the end of his life. With more than 600 architectural projects to his credit, he celebrated his 104th birthday working in his studio, a light filled space with large windows facing Copacabana beach where he received his guests, and where today one can feel his absence and emptiness. His vitality was legendary, and so was his idealism. He joined the ranks of the Communist Party in 1945 and remained a member until his death. This affiliation caused him endless problems and criticism. The great poet and musician, Vinicius de Moraes, said of him: he was a simple man, compassionate and generous, more concerned with the general good than with his own. Another friend, songwriter Chico Buarque de Hollanda, declared after his death that Niemeyer had been one of the greatest artists of his time and a man bigger than his own art.
Niemeyer, born in his beloved Rio de Janeiro, was a young bohemian who quickly settled down and began working with architect and urban planner, Lucio Costa, with whom he took his first professional steps and shares the credit for the design and construction of Brasilia, the new capital of the country built between 1956 and 1960. The Alvorada Palace, the Planalto and Itamaraty, as well as the Metropolitan Cathedral, are his more outstanding buildings in that city. After the 1964 military coup, he was exiled in Europe and did not return to Brazil until 1987, beginning a new phase in his career during which he created one of his favorite works, the headquarters of Milan’s Mondadori Publishing House. Back in Brazil, Niemeyer did not rest on his laurels and continued to create buildings that have made history, such as the Latin America Memorial in Sao Paulo, and what many consider his best work: the Museum of Contemporary Art in Niteroi.
The Brazilian master was honored with important recognitions such as the 1988 Pritzker Prize of Architecture and the 1989 Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts. Oscar Niemeyer will go down in history as one of the most significant architects of the 20th century for his contributions to the exploration of the expressive, plastic and constructive possibilities of reinforced concrete and the integration of his buildings to the environment, one of the earliest examples of organic architecture. ■