He drove Latin passion back into architecture. He was a ‘star-chitect’ of Brazil, bringing the country global fame in the modernist movement. Oscar Niemeyer’s architectural philosophy was to design in a way that ‘naturally linked to his roots and his country of origin’, yet ‘Mister Brazilia’ as he has been known, was in fact forced out of Brazil in 1964 when politics trumped architectural style and innovation.
See footage Oscar Niemeyer (1907-2012) in his office and you will notice the walls adorned with posters of nude women. He was a lover of natural forms, more specifically the curves of the female body, which he gracefully translated into architecture. Whilst Louis Sullivan insisted ‘Form follows function’ and Luigi Colani contested that ‘Form follows emotion’, Niemeyer shows us that perhaps ‘Form follows feminine’.
In 1956, Niemeyer was appointed chief architect of public buildings by Brazilian president Juscelino Kubitschek, in the country’s new capital, Brasilia, a metropolis to be built from scratch. “This was a liberating time,” he said. “It seemed as if a new society was being born, with all the traditional barriers cast aside. I tried to push the potential of concrete to its limits, especially at the load-bearing points, which I wanted to be as delicate as possible so that it would seem as if the palaces barely touched the ground.”
His designs are now the architectural staples of Brazil. Just google Brasilia and you’ll find the search engine offering you countless images of Niemeyer’s work, as they are undeniably some of the finest gems of what the city has to offer. However despite Niemeyer’s dedication to his country’s physical design, his commitment to communism was stronger.
Niemeyer stated that life is more important than architecture. He had joined the Brazilian communist party as a youth in 1945, but unfortunately this became a serious problem for him in the 1964 military coup. The army viewed Niemeyer as a dangerously influential leftist and ransacked his office. Alarmed, he ressettled in France the following year where he continued his career. Niemeyer only returned to Brazil at the end of the military dictatorship in 1985.
No matter where he was Oscar Niemeyer was a fantastic success, always following his belief that beauty should prevail over the limitations of constructions logic. A man invariably true to his beliefs, he won the International Lenin Peace Prize in Moscow and said , “On the politics, I’m with you,” he said to an audience that regarded modernist architecture as decadent. “But your architecture is awful. Look, I didn’t come here to criticize, but you asked. It’s terrible.”