Thursday, December 6, 2012

In Memoriam: Oscar Niemeyer

Here, then, is what I wanted to tell you of my architecture. I created it with courage and idealism, but also with an awareness of the fact that what is important is life, friends and attempting to make this unjust world a better place in which to live. (Oscar Niemeyer)
Renowned Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer (December 15, 1907 - December 5, 2012) died yesterday in Rio de Janeiro. The last of the great Modern (with a capital "M") architects, he was just 10 days shy of his 105th birthday. He was one of my heroes.

Why such a hero to me? Honestly, I can't really even put my finger on it. Writing about his life and work a few years ago, I called both the man and his work "A Strange Paradox." He was by all accounts a visionary, an artist, a lover of life--and he defined the image of a nation quite literally with his extensive work in Brasilia, Brazil's mid-century ex nihilo capital. But he was also an atheist, communist, exile whose love for life was, it seems to me, mediated by a melancholic longing for something more.

Though I had the privilege of being around a number of "famous" architects while in grad school at Yale, I am not generally the star-struck architecture fan type. Niemeyer was different for me, though. Until learning of his death last night, I secretly held on to a long-time dream of "some day" meeting him, even if only to shake hands and say a few words. At 104 and still at work, one could imagine him living forever. The closest I came was during a trip to Rio de Janeiro in 2009. As we were working out the details of our itinerary, I corresponded via e-mail with his office trying to arrange a brief meeting, but I was not able to work anything out.

Coincidentally enough, I was actually thinking about Niemeyer yesterday. That tends to happen when early December rolls around and I remember his upcoming birthday. I walked over to the bookshelves in my office where I keep all of my architecture books. I browsed the section of Niemeyer books (I have close to a dozen) and picked up his memoir, The Curves of Time, which I read a few years ago. Crossing the line completely into star-struck-fan, I even though, "I wonder if I could mail this to him to sign for me?"

I have been fortunate to be able to see a number of Niemeyer's notable works in the past few years in Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba, and Belo Horizonte, Brazil and in Milan, Italy. Some visits were pilgrimages that my family graciously indulged me with, while other projects were simply viewed in passing. I've included some photos from these trips below.

Outside the Museum of Contemporary Art in Niteroi, across the bay from Rio de Janeiro
(December 2009).

The kiddos being cool in front of the Ministry of Education and Health in Rio de Janeiro.
(December 2009)

Heading through the 2nd floor reception room of the Ministry of Education and Health out to the lush rooftop garden.
(December 2009)

In front of the Museu Oscar Niemeyer in Curitiba, Brazil.
(July 2011)

We were looking for a grocery store in Belo Horizonte and stumbled upon this residential building by Niemeyer.
(July 2011)

The sinuous curves of the Casa do Baile (Dance Hall) on the lake in Pampulha, Belo Horizonte.
(July 2011)

Ex casino in Pampulha, now an art museum.
(July 2011)

Happy architect in front of the Chapel of St. Francis in Belo Horizonte.
(July 2011)

Brasilia from the air, with the monumental axis where may of Niemeyer's iconic government buildings are situated running from lower left to upper right in the photo. This has got to be on one of our next Brazil trips!
(July 2011)

Additional Resources:

I've written about Niemeyer on Through the Oculus (here), and I've also written some research papers about Niemeyer and his work while in graduate school (here and here).

Here are some links to recent articles in response to Niemeyer's death: ABCArch DailyArch Daily BrasilArchinectBBCCNNFox News LatinoO Globo, O Globo (2), O Globo (3), The Guardian, Tue Guardian (2), Huffington PostThe IndependentLos Angeles TimesNew York TimesNPRThe TelegraphThe Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Mind the Gap

I made the serendipitous discovery while walking in front of the gym the other day that Harkness Tower can be seen over the pathway between Morse and Stiles Colleges, if only for a few seconds, as one travels along Tower Parkway.

The juxtaposition of the 1930s Gothic revival Harkness Tower by architect James Gamble Rogers with Eero Saarinen's 1960s Modern residential colleges is just the kind of playful architectural "eye-candy" that continues to amaze me as I discover more of my favorite little moments on campus.

The sunlight late this afternoon bathed the yellowish stone of the campus in a golden glow. It was so lovely that while biking home from work today I stopped to take a panorama of the Morse and Stiles crescent. This golden glow of Yale is one of the things I vividly remember from my first visit to campus on 2002.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Campus Views

I have really enjoyed getting to know Yale's campus a bit better in the last few months since starting my job as Senior Planner.  In addition to the exceptional people I have the opportunity to work with daily, my job affords me access to some pretty cool places.

Here are some highlights from the past few months:

Looking southwest from the seventh floor of Whitney Grove Square over Timothy Dwight College toward the New Haven Green.  (Alas, the Dementors did not show.)

A view of Yale from the 14th floor of he Eli building downtown.  Sterling Memorial Library is on the left, the Hall of Graduate Studies tower in the center, and the shrouded Payne Whitney Gymnasium tower on the right.

Beinecke Library and Plaza, with Commons to the right.

From the roof of Payne Whitney Gym looking east over Morse and Stiles Colleges, with the Hall of Graduate Studies tower in between.

A beautiful late-summer day in the Silliman courtyard.

The interior of the Berkeley dining hall.

The reading room at the Divinity School Library.

A panoramic view of the Yale Bowl.  (I am pretty sure this was only the third time in my life I have ever been inside a football stadium.)

Take me out to the ballgame?  A view of Yale Field.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A View from Seven

After almost eight years of employment at Pickard Chilton, I recently resigned from the firm to take a position in the University Planning office of Yale University.

Though I am still getting used to my new role as "Senior Planner" and all it entails, one thing that I have gotten used to is the view from my office.  (Yes, I now have an office.  With a door.)

My office is on the seventh floor of Whitney Grove Square, just two blocks north of the New Haven Green.  My window looks west over the campus and gets great light, and even after two weeks, I have not yet turned on my ceiling light!  (And no, the adjacent flat rooftop is not accessible.)

From left to right on the photograph, notable buildings on the skyline are:

  • Center Church on the Green;
  • United Church on the Green;
  • the Taft apartment building;
  • Bingham Hall on Old Campus;
  • the tower of  Timothy Dwight College (in the foreground);
  • First & Summerfield United Methodist Church;
  • Harkness Tower at Branford College;
  • the stacks of Sterling Memorial Library (background) and tower of Silliman College (foreground);
  • the Hall of Graduate Studies tower;
  • the dome of Woolsey Hall;
  • Payne Whitney Gymnasium (shrouded in blue);
  • Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona;
  • and St. Mary's Church.