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.