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    EXPLORE

    Crowd against the light near a huge white-painted concrete igloo.
    National Museum in the shape of an igloo.

    Who was Oscar Niemeyer?

    Was he a giant of modern architecture, a communist, a poet of curves, a tireless worker, a centenarian newlywed or a national hero? All the answers are right! And to make the portrait even more complex, his real name is Oscar Ribeiro de Almeida de Niemeyer Soares, whose origins are Portuguese, Arab and German. However, Oscar was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1907. And he died there 104 years later. Let’s retrace a life that spanned the 20th century.

    At the age of 22, Oscar chose his working tools. It would be his hand and the pencil as he entered Rio’s Escola Nacional de Belas Artes. Later, with his degree in architecture in hand, two encounters proved particularly influential. The urban planner and architect Lucio Costa hired him as an apprentice in his office. And in 1936, thanks to Costa, Oscar met a Swiss colleague twenty years older than him, Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, known as Le Corbusier. With his rigid, functional style, Le Corbusier had a strong influence on the junior, who found his way in curves using reinforced concrete, his favourite material. In 1952, together with other architects, they designed the United Nations headquarters in New York.

    Interior view of a cathedral with 16 curved white columns and thousands of stained glass windows in shades of blue and white.
    Stained-glass vault of the magnificent Catedral Metropolitana Nossa Senhora Aparecida.

    The capital of Brazil, Brasília, is the masterpiece of Oscar’s life. This commission from Brazil’s president at the time, Juscelino Kubitschek, was audacious. From 1958 the architect brilliantly designed the main public monuments, including the Catedral Metropolitana Nossa Senhora Aparecida with its sixteen curved columns, the igloo-shaped Museu Nacional, the Supremo Tribunal Federal and, of course, the Congresso Nacional with its towers and two domes.

    Military parade in a large square near a concrete tower on a sunny day.
    Three Powers Square during a parade. Seen from the air, the master plan (plano piloto), designed by urban planner Lucio Costa, is shaped like an airplane. The cockpit represents the three powers: executive, legislative and judicial.

    After the coup d’état of March 31 1964, Brazil plunged into a military dictatorship that lasted until 1985. Oscar went into exile in Europe for over twenty years. This period was fertile for his creations abroad: Berlin, Milan, Paris, Algiers, Tripoli and even Los Angeles. A career spanning 70 years, several hundred works, a colossal legacy! In 1988, he was awarded the prestigious Pritzker Prize, considered to be the Nobel Prize of architecture. In the words of the jury, “his buildings distill the colours, light and sensual image of his native land”. An architectural work must be “beautiful and light”, according to Oscar. “It’s not the right angle that attracts me. Nor the straight, hard, inflexible line created by man. What attracts me is the free, sensual curve. The curve I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuous course of its rivers, in the clouds of the sky, in the body of the woman I love. The whole universe is made of curves,” concludes the master.

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