R.I.P. Oscar Niemeyer
Yesterday one of the world’s great architects, Oscar Niemeyer, passed on to that undiscover’d country from whose bourne no traveler returns. He was 104 years old (just a few days shy of his 105th birthday) and continued to create until the very end.
In the mid twentieth century he was one of the leaders of a futuristic aesthetic in architecture. He was given an opportunity to exercise that vision in a way that few architects would dare to hope for – To participate in the design and creation of an entire city! Not just any city, but the new modern capital city of Brazil.
Brasilia bears the mark of Niemeyer’s vision to this day. The whole city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so the original architectural aesthetic is scrupulously maintained. I was aware of Brasilia and its premier architect long before I ever visited Brazil. Niemeyer’s designs are benchmarks of Modernism and no one studying architectural history of the twentieth century could avoid the grand experiment of Brasilia. But I could not at the time imagine what it would be like to live in such a place. The pictures in textbooks seem sterile – all white concrete with no human beings around.
To see these buildings in person is quite another matter, though, for what you don’t get from photographs is how the structures, artificial as they are, really seem to embody the atmosphere of the land. The big geometric shapes feel at home in against the flat horizon and the big clear sky. The white concrete shines in the bright sun.
Niemeyer had a knack for making impossible things possible; buildings that seem to float above the ground like desert mirages. There is a remarkable spirit and joy that shines through those clean lines and graceful curves.