Funga picked Oscar Niemeyer as this month´s architect, as I consider his work completely fantastical. It goes beyond the conventional, embracing bold forms, futuristic visions, and a harmonious integration with nature. His designs evoke a sense of wonder and imagination, making a lasting impact on the world of architecture.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the modernist movement in architecture was the idea that buildings should look the same wherever they happen to be on earth. The key early figures of Modernism were united in their bitter opposition to any ´regionalism,´ which they saw as reactionary, folkloric, and plain mediocre.
The Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer started his career as an orthodox modernist. He was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1907 and developed a passion for architecture in his early teens. As a young man, he fell in with a group that venerated the great European Modernist architects, especially Le Corbusier, who had insisted on making sure the buildings made no concession whatsoever to the culture in which they were located. Niemeyer´s professional dreams were realized when, in 1936, Le Corbusier came to Rio to design the new Ministry of Education and Health, and Niemeyer got a job on the project.
While working with him, Niemeyer retained the utmost respect for Le Corbusier, but at the same time, he couldn’t help but observe how blind his guest was to the particularities of Brazilian culture and climate. With what would become his legendary charm, Niemeyer managed to persuade Le Corbusier to abandon some of his more hard-edged ´universalist´ ideas and start making some concessions to local conditions. Emboldened by his success, Niemeyer felt ready to break free from the European Modernism. He is now celebrated for being the first modernist architect anywhere in the world to practice a regional kind of Modernism: in his case, a Brazilian-infused modernism. His first wholly original work was completed in 1943 (when he was 36), the church of Saint Francis of Assisi. The church had no straight lines on any plane, for Niemeyer now judged these to be European and, in many ways, authoritarian.
As in the Ministry of Health, the church had tiles across it. They reminded viewers that Brazil could be both modern and yet recall its heritage – that a church might nod towards the forms of a futuristic airplane hanger and yet could simultaneously accommodate a depiction of Saint Francis.
Niemeyer was henceforth to include curves in all his buildings and saw them in a nationalistic light as being particularly Brazilian in nature. He remarked, “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, and in the bodies of beautiful Brazilian women.”
The latter point about women is telling. Niemeyer was deeply responsive to female beauty throughout his life. He was famous around Rio for his affairs, many with women dramatically younger than he was. At 92, he acquired a girlfriend who had just turned 25.
Niemeyer´s most audacious attempt to use architecture to define Brazilian identity came with his designs for the new capital, Brasilia. In 1956, President Kubitschek of Brazil asked Niemeyer to help create a wholly planned city in the centre of the country, free from the corruption of the old capital in Rio. Niemeyer drew up the National Congress, a cathedral, a cultural complex, many ministries and commercial and residential buildings. The atmosphere was dignified, hopeful, and in touch with the native environment. Apartment buildings were often lifted on stilts to allow vegetation to grow beneath them, maintaining a connection with the local ecology and tropical climate. Of course, Niemeyer´s works depicted Brazil not as it was, but as he believed and hoped it might one day be. Brasilia imagines the Brazil of the future; it is a glass and reinforced concrete ideal for the country to develop towards. In the future, so the capital argues, Brazil will be a place where rationality is powerful, where order and harmony reign, where elegance and serenity are normal.
Niemeyer was prolific until the very last minute, teaching around the world, writing, and designing sculptures and furniture. He died in 2012 when he was 104 years old. He was given a hero’s funeral and thousands joined the cortege. What his nation was honouring was an architect who had given it a workable yet ideal portrait of itself. He had enabled Brazil to break free from a sterile European modernism and to create buildings that better reflected the nation’s uniqueness.
Niemeyer remains an example to all architects who aspire to put up buildings that remember the distinctiveness of their locations – architects who may like their computers or their phones to be universal in design but are as keen for their buildings to be culturally specific.
The text of this article was taken from the below video. I also recommend watching this documentary on YouTube to get a better sense of Oscar Niemeyer.