Legendary modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer, who designed many of the most prominent government buildings in Brasília and the UN Headquarters in New York City – has died in a Rio hospital just days before marking his 105th birthday.
President Dilma Rousseff has extended her deepest sympathies to Niemeyer’s family.
Niemeyer’s body will be flown to Brasília on to lie in state in the Presidential Palace, the Planalto, in memory of the architectural legacy he bestowed on Brazil and many other countries, including the U.S. and Spain, before being returned to Rio’s Palácio da Cidade in Botafogo for a private ceremony with friends and family.
The public will then be granted access before he is buried in Botafogo.
Niemeyer rose to international fame in the 1960s as the new futuristic capital city was unveiled to the nation. The hallmark architectural swoops he used in his designs were, by his own admission, inspired by the “free-flowing sensual curves” of Brazilian women.
An ardent communist and atheist, he fled Brazil during the military dictatorship of the 1970s and 1980s, and continued to build on his career in France. His innovative use of reinforced concrete and rejection of conventional angled designs earned him both admirers and critics.
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Oscar Niemeyer is difficult to miss in Brazil. He is simply everywhere, whether you are in Rio – where you’ll be struck by his Contemporary Art Museum in Niterói, or his swoop in Rocinha – or in Curitiba, Natal or Belo Horizonte.
But nowhere has he made his mark more firmly than on Brasília – the plane-shaped capital tailor-made for governing, which was inaugurated in the 1960s.
It’s a strange place – there’s no two ways about it. You feel like your in a blown-up version of a model of the city. The buildings don’t fit in, nor do they match with each other, but still – there is a certain charm to it all.
And it is impressive. The plan was to make a futuristic-looking Brasília, and if you look at it through the eyes of someone in the 1960s, you can see how it must have blown them away.
Nowadays, it looks like someone tried to make it look futuristic, and feels more like a theme park.
Most notably in Brasília, Niemeyer designed the striking government buildings around the Praça dos Três Poderes (“Three Powers Square” – the Supreme Court, the President, and the Senators and Deputies) and the hyperboloid-shaped Cathedral.
Despite criticism that his communist brain couldn’t fathom what it meant for his art to be touched by human love (although, to be fair, he was married for 76 years to the same woman before she passed away), he said the swoops that became his hallmark were inspired by nature and people – from the mountains and rivers of Rio, to curves of Brazilian women.
“When you have a large space to conquer, the curve is the natural solution. I once wrote a poem about the curve. The curve I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean and on the body of the beloved woman.”
Niemeyer was said to be designing until very near the end of his long life, with many unfinished projects and indeed many that never left the drawing board – including in Moscow, Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, DR Congo and Portugal.
But despite that, he now has more than 600 buildings around the world to his name, including museums, monuments, schools and churches.