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Oscar Niemeyer: 100 years of a daring architeture

Brazil's most celebrated architect Oscar Niemeyer turns 100 today – still very much alive, lucid, working and involved in many projects. He is the man who designed the country's capital city, Brasilia, which is considered his master piece. He has also given the world many architectural gems, such as the UN Headquarters in New York, Museum of Modern Art of Caracas and the French Communist Party headquarters.

The last surviving founder of architecture's modernist movement is still full of ideas for designs that have become even more daring concepts. Among his upcoming projects, there is a new arts building for the Spanish city of Avilés. He has revealed in interviews that, although this project may only be ready in 2010, it is already one of his favorites designs.

Oscar Niemeyer Museum, Curitiba, Brazil. Photo by acewill, under a Creative Commons license

Brazilian and international bloggers have been wishing him a happy birthday, publishing pictures of his work and commenting on his strength, ideas and projects. Starting with Fernando Assad [pt] who explains why the Brazilian is a genius:

As obras de Niemeyer são formadas por traços limpos e dinâmicos, e por isso evocam a modernidade. O dinamismo, a simplicidade e a clareza das obras valorizam o Ser Humano, pois são indicativos, porque o Humano só consegue o sucesso em seu labor quando se compromete com o dinamismo, a simplicidade para a otimização e a clareza de seus atos. Sem contar a beleza das obras, ricas em curvaturas insinuantes. (Que os engenheiros continuem quebrando suas cabeças para colocarem as obras de Niemeyer de pé).

Niemeyer's works are comprised of clean and dynamic lines, and as such they evoke modernity. The dynamism, simplicity and clarity of his works enhances the Human Being, because they are indicative of the fact that Humans only succeed in their work when they commit themselves to dynamism and simplicity to optimize and clarify their acts. Without even taking into consideration the beauty of the works, rich in ingratiating curves. (I hope engineers will carry on puzzling over ensuring Niemeyer's works can be made to stand).

Communist Party Headquarter, Paris, France. Photo by fromform, under a Creative Commons license

Valéria Borborema [pt] adds that the lightness he has given to concrete through his daring curves may have been:

Uma tentativa de brincar com a sisudez tão presente na arquitetura, que passou a gozar de uma plasticidade impensável até Niemeyer.

An attempt to play with the seriousness so present in architecture, which now enjoys a plasticity unthinkable until Niemeyer.

During the military dictatorship, Niemeyer was exiled in Paris, after having his office and the headquarters of a magazine he used to coordinate destroyed. When it comes to political views, Pedro Nelito [pt] notes that the architect has not changed much since he was a young man:

Oscar Niemeyer, foi amigo de Luiz Carlos Prestes(Cavaleiro da Esperança) político e militante do PCB, perseguido por todas as ditaduras que se estabeleceram em nosso país. Oscar é o que nós chamamos de “Velho Comunista”, mesmo sendo festejado pela Rede Globo, não abre mão de suas convicções políticas e é muito respeitado pela sua história de vida.

Oscar Niemeyer, who was friends with Luiz Carlos Prestes (knight of Hope), a politician and PCB [Brazilian Communist Party] supporter, was chased by all dictatorships that established themselves in our country. Niemeyer is what we call an “Old School Communist”, even if now he is celebrated by Globo Network, he has not given up his political views and is much respected because of his background.

Museum of Contemporary Art, Niterói, Brazil. Photo by Hendo101, under a Creative Commons license

calamity jane [pt] quotes Niemeyer's ideas on socialism – he turns 100 years still believing in social justice and revolution – and gets inspired by them:

O mesmo senhor diz também que a vida é um sopro. E eu, que acredito que temos uma missão na vida, caso contrário não sei bem o que estaríamos aqui a fazer, digo-vos, inúmeros e incontáveis: se há quem chegue aos 100 anos a acreditar na revolução, no amor e na felicidade, então temos de acordar rapidamente para fazer a nossa parte. (…) É possível mudar o mundo porque eu quero.

This same gentleman also says life is a blow. And I, who believe that we all have a mission in life and who otherwise would not know what we are here for, tell you all: if someones reaches the age of 100 believing in revolution, love and happiness, then we have to wake up quickly and do our bit. (…) It is possible to change the world because I want it.

Many others embedded a trailer of Fabiano Maciel's documentary quoted above, A vida é um sopro (Life is a blow), in which Eduardo Galeano, author of The Open Veins of Latin America, says:

“É sabido que Oscar Niemeyer odeia o capitalismo e odeia o ângulo reto. Contra o ângulo reto, que ofende o espaço, ele tem feito uma arquitetura leve como as nuvens, livre, sensual, que é muito parecida com a paisagem das montanhas do Rio de Janeiro. São montanhas que parecem corpos de mulheres deitadas, desenhadas por Deus no dia em que Deus achou que era Niemeyer”.

“Everyone knows that Oscar Niemeyer hates both capitalism and right angles. To go against right angles, which ruins the space, he has created an architecture as light as clouds, free, sensual, which is very similar to the mountainous landscape of Rio de Janeiro. These are mountains that look like women's bodies lying down, and they were designed by God the day that God thought he was Niemeyer”.

Copan Building, São Paulo, Brazil. Photo by ojjo, under a Creative Commons license

Even those who do not personally agree with his radical ideas, have to bow today to this living legend, as Vera Fróes [pt]:

Independente de concordar ou não com suas idéias, admiro a figura do arquiteto que sempre se mostrou firme em seus ideais sejam eles ideologicos(comunismo), religiosos(ateu) ou arquitetônicos(concreto armado). Além disso chegar nessa idade lúcido e desenvolvendo vários projetos, não é para qualquer um, tem que ser iluminado.

Regardless of agreeing or not with his ideas, I have admiration for the architect who has always remained firm in his ideals, be it in ideology (communism), religion (atheism) or architecture (reinforced concrete). Besides, not everyone gets to this age still lucid and developing many projects, he must be enlightened.

And the celebrations go on. Pelo Mar Aberto [pt] publishes a dozen pictures, Varal de Idéias [pt] brings a hand full of illustrations and caricatures, and Esthefani Magalhães [pt] links to YouTube video-homages. Others talk about the many exhibitions [pt] in Brazil, Portugal and other countries to mark this centenary. There are also photo-galleries here and here. A search in the blogosphere yields posts and reports in many other languages. Among them, we finish off quoting Niemeyer himself, who was recently interviewed by The Times about today's date:

“The date is not important. The age is not important. Time is not important. Life is very fleeting. It’s important to be gentle and optimistic. We look behind and think what we’ve done in this life has been good. It was simple; it was modest. Everyone creates their own story and moves on. That’s it. I don’t feel particularly important. What we create is not important. We’re very insignificant.”

National Cathedral in Brasilia, Brazil. Photo by guilhermekardel, under a Creative Commons license


  • paula,

    excelente e irretocável artigo! são diversos pontos de vista do artista plástico niemeyer que, sem dúvida, traçam o seu perfil e o da sua arte. no fim, é o que ficará para a posteridade – as obras ousadas, as propostas inusitadas. o resto… bom, o resto é só curiosidade minha… querer saber se o homem segue pelos limites do seu pensamento, ou se deixa guiar pelos sonhos da sua obra…

    Translation by GVO

    This is an excellent and untouchable article! There are different points of view about niemeyer, the fine artist, that there is no doubt that they outline his profile and that of his art. In the end, this is what will remain for posterity – the bold works, the unusual propositions. The rest … Well, the rest is just out of my curiosity … I would like to know if this man follows the limits of his thoughts, or if he allowed himself to be guided by the dreams of his pieces…

  • Fernando


    Paula, sua matéria está fantástica, relevou as nuances, peculiaridades e o sentido do trabalho de Niemeyer. É belíssimo o seu trabalho. E fico muito feliz e por eu ter participado dela também! Meus agradecimentos!

    Um abraço, Paula!

    Translation by GVO

    Hello! This article is fantastic, it discloses the subtle distinction, the peculiarities and meaning Niemeyer’s work. His work is so beautiful. And I am very happy to have participated in this article too! Many thanks!

    Cheers, Paula!

  • Jan Gorlach

    Best wishes to Oscar Niemeyer. His work is a revelation!

    • vanda guerra

      Please I would like to get the email of mr. jan gorlach or send mine to him. thanks a lot.

  • […] Artikel erschien zuerst auf Global Voices. Die Übersetzung erfolgte durch Clemens Harten, Teil des “Project Lingua“. Die […]

  • Niemeyer avancou e atrasou a arquitetura brasileira. Na medida que ele exerceu um dominio aparente sob a direcao da arquitetura brasileira e na medida que chamou para si na decada de 50 o patrocinio do governo ele moldou mas atrasou. E certo que ele tem uma obra significante mas poucos projetos dele sao “gostosos” de viver.

    Niemeyer promoted and helded back Brazilian architecture. His apparent control over the direction of Brazilian and the fact that he collected the government contracts in the 50s shaped but also deformed. Clearly his life work is there but few of his projects are nice to live in or be in up close.

  • Liz Silva

    I’m amazed with Oscar!!!It’s not always that we can celebrate a worldwide known sucess brazilian!!! Specialy
    turning 100 marvelous years old!!! With all my heart I give a hand to him!!!Congrat Oscar!!!Happy birthday!!!

    Estou maravilhada com Oscar!!!Nao e sempre que podemos celebrar um brasileiro de sucesso mundialmente conhecido!!!Especialmente completando 100 anos de idade!!!De todo meu coracao eu o aplaudo!!!Parabens Oscar!!!Feliz aniversario!!!

  • […] for the Thing. It’s an outdoor sculpture designed by architect Brad Cloepfil. Should be some sexy concrete. I’ve wanted visit since I read about it in […]

  • […] projects in Brazil and abroad. On his 100th birthday, on December 15, 2007, Global Voices revisited [en] some of the most significant creations of his life's work. Oscar Niemeyer on the Brazilian […]

  • […] Thing. It’s an outdoor sculpture designed by architect Brad Cloepfil. Should be some sexy concrete. I’ve wanted visit since I read about it […]

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