“Who thinks he’s important, is a donkey.”
Oscar Ribeiro de Almeida Niemeyer Soares Filho was born on December 15th, 1907 in Rio de Janeiro. He was well known as a pioneering figure of modern Brazilian Architecture. Last night the world not only lost an important architect but also an intellectual and a visionary. He became world-renowned for his work on the newly planned Brazilian capital Brasília.
The construction of Brasília began on October 22nd, 1956. Already after 10 days the first provisional presidential palace has been completed. Till today it is known as the first building of Brasília. Many workers were fascinated by the idea of a completely new and modern city, with the result that they came to the newly planned city and worked there up to fifteen hours a day. The construction of the city has been almost finished in four years after the beginning.
The most famous building in Brasília and probably of Niemeyer’s portfolio in general is the Catedral Metropolitana Nossa Senhora Aparecida, a catholic church in the centre of the city. The building has a diameter of 70 metres and is solely made out of concrete and glass.
Sixteen pointed concrete columns cause the hyperbolic form of the building, which is still very distinct compared to the cubic constructions of the rest of the city. The symbolism of the church could be interpreted as Jesus’ crown of thorns, praying hands or a heavenward flower.
Today Brasília can be seen as a paradoxical blend of impressive but also unrealistically planned architecture. For tourists the city remains still rather inaccessible. The city has almost no sidewalks or street-crossings. To get somewhere without a car is almost impossible, but even the taxi drivers speak almost no English. Still there are some upward trends. The income rates per capita are the highest in the country. There are a lot of cultural events going on besides all the malls, bars, clubs and pubs you can find. From a modern architectural perspective Brasília can be seen as one of the most important and interesting cities in the world.
Niemeyer was not only an extraordinary architect but also an exceptional individual. The era Niemeyer was double-edged as life is itself. His architectural work was focussed often more on aesthetics than on utilitarian principles. This brought him a lot of accusations by colleagues. Some blamed him to be a creator of “soulless and communist” architecture.
Though, his examination of new aesthetic possibilities of reinforced concrete was very important for the architecture of the second half of the 20th and early 21st centuries. He achieved his aims being a man of work and revolutionising architecture, urban planning and design. Recognised and criticised as the “Sculptor of Monuments”, Niemeyer was praised for being a great artist and one of the great architects by fellow planners like Le Corbusier, with whom among others he designed the UN headquarter building in New York.