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  Name   Oscar Ribeiro de Almeida Niemeyer Soares Filho
  Born   December 15, 1907
  Died   December 5, 2012
  Nationality   Brazil
  Official website    

Oscar Ribeiro de Almeida de Niemeyer Soares (b. Rio de Janeiro, 1907) is Brazil’s most celebrated architect, known internationally for his designs and writings. His leftist politics support an architectural philosophy with a strong moral agenda dedicated to social change. Many of Niemeyer’s commissions have been for progressive clients seeking to use architecture as a transformative medium.

Niemeyer studied at the Escola Nacional das Belas-Artes in Rio de Janeiro with architects, Lúcio Costa and Gregori Warchavchik, who introduced him to works by European modernists. Costa encouraged Niemeyer to seek a personal expression rooted in his own national traditions, tempering modern technology and theory with a respect for Brazil’s complex culture and landscape. As a draftsman in Costa’s office, Niemeyer participated on a team headed by Costa that designed the headquarters of the Ministry of Education and Public Health in Rio (1936–43). Le Corbusier's initial participation as a consultant greatly affected Niemeyer, who, in developing Le Corbusier’s project, significantly shaped and executed the scheme. By advocating reinforced concrete for the building, Le Corbusier further influenced Niemeyer and other Brazilian designers.

Niemeyer's key role in the Ministry design soon led to other noteworthy commissions. His Obra do Berço (1937), a philanthropic daycare and maternity center in Rio displayed his adaptation of Le Corbusian forms to local climatic conditions. This composition anticipated his design with Lúcio Costa for the Brazilian Pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. The central ramp curved dramatically through a rectangular facade screened by brise-soleil and supported on pilotis. In response, critics proclaimed Costa and Niemeyer as form-givers of a new Brazilian modernism.

The sensuous asymmetry of the Brazilian pavilion emerged fully at Pampulha, a suburban resort complex (1942-43) near Belo Horizonte. Niemeyer’s lakeside Casino linked a rectangular gambling hall on pilotis to an ovoid nightclub pavilion. At the Casa do Baile, a crescent-shaped restaurant encircled an open dance space connected to a circular stage via a sinuous pergola. This commission introduced Niemeyer to his most important client, President Juscelino Kubitschek, then mayor of Belo Horizonte and subsequently, founder of Brasília.

While such innovative spaces for social ritual addressed the urban elite of Belo Horizonte, they prefigured more socially inclusive works while compelling Niemeyer to think in terms of comprehensive planning. The latter proved essential to Niemeyer’s participation on the international team designing the United Nations Headquarters (New York, 1947). Evolving from a hybrid of schemes by Le Corbusier and Niemeyer, the Headquarters design recalls the Ministry of Education while anticipating Niemeyer’s work of the 1950s and 1960s.

In helping Kubitschek realize his dream of a modern centralized capital, Niemeyer directed a vast, politically sensitive project. Niemeyer’s designs complemented Lúcio Costa's Pilot Plan (1956). Resembling an airplane, the plan disposes key government agencies along a monumental east-west axis with commercial and residential functions relegated to north-south “wings.” Niemeyer’s palatial ministry buildings, faced with grand arcades or tapered pilotis, frame Costa’s monumental axis. At its head, anchoring the Plaza of the Three Powers, the National Congress complex strikingly articulates its functions. Meeting chambers for the Senate and Deputies rise from a long low platform as a shallow dome and a low swelling bowl, with twin office towers behind. While bestowing social and political symbolism upon such monumental plastic shapes, Niemeyer creates the effect of sculpture on a Cartesian plane, one paralleled by the presence of the city itself on Brazil’s Planalto. Critics subsequently attacked Brasília’s inhumane scale, noting its elitist zoning and citing the failure of Niemeyer’s abstract forms as symbols.

Despite such criticism, Niemeyer has arrived at a distinctive individual style. In the biomorphic shapes of his most original designs, the architect reveals his engagement with the beauty of Brazil’s landscape and the human form. The undulating parabolic vaults of the church of Sao Francisco de Assis (Pampulha, 1943) clearly synthesize Le Corbusian and Baroque colonial forms. Yet, in mature works such as his Metropolitan Cathedral for Brasília (1958-60), Niemeyer achieves a more delicate personal statement. From a distance, skeletal concrete ribs serve as a metaphor for a crown of thorns. Approached via a subterranean ramp through a low entrance, the space of the sanctuary opens dramatically overhead, with light filtering through blue, green, and frosted white glass, creating a nearly submarine effect, and evoking a state of reverence.

Insisting “architecture is not important, life is important,” Niemeyer reiterates his commitment to socially responsible design through works celebrating political or cultural allegiances, such as the Communist Party Headquarters (Paris, 1967-80) and the Memorial da América Latina (São Paulo, 1989). Expressed through architecture, Niemeyer’s aims are ultimately humanistic, grounded in a respect for nature but relying on technology to achieve them.

Oscar Niemeyer has written extensively on his works and ideas in monographs and, since 1955, in his journal, Médulo. Niemeyer’s work has been covered extensively in architectural journals and books in multiple languages. His archive, the Fundação Oscar Niemeyer, in Rio de Janeiro, contains important correspondence, photographs, and drawings documenting his work.


Sennott R.S. Encyclopedia of twentieth century architecture, Vol.2 (G-O).  Fitzroy Dearborn., 2005.


Selected Publications

Coma se faz, arquitetuna, Petropolis: Voxes.1986

Me sosia e eu, Rio de Janciro: Editoria Revan, 1992

Minha experiencia em Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro: Vitoria, 1961

Muu de Arte Contemporanea de Niterit, Rio de Janeiro: Editoria Revan. 1997

Niemeyer, Paris: Alphabet. 1975, 1977

Quase memorias: viagens, teaspos de enrusiasmo c revolta-1961-1966, Rio de Janeiro, Civilização Brasileira. 1968

Testes o dessins pour Brasilia, Paris: Editions Forces Vives, 1965


Further reading

Bruand, Yves, Arquitetsera Contentporánea no Brasil, translated from the French by Ana M. Goldberger, São Paolo, Brasil: Editoria Perspectiva, 1981

Bullrich, Francisco, New Directions in Latin American Architecture, New York: Reinhold, 1969

Evenson, Norma, Two Brazilian capitals; architecture and urbanism, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973

Goodwin, Philip, and G.E. Kidder Smith, Brazil builds architecture new and old, 1652-1942, New York: The Museum of Modern Art. 1943

Goodwin, Philip, Oscar Niemeyer, and Juscelino Kubrichek, Pampulha, Rio de Janciro, Brasil: Imprensa Nacional, 1944

Harris, Elizabeth Davis, "Le Combusier and the Headquarters of the Brazilian Ministry of Education and Health, 1936-1945," Ph.D. disc Univercity of Chicago, 1984

Hyatt Foundation, The Pricker Architecture Prize 1988: presented Gordon Burahaft and Oscar Niemeyer, Los Angeles; The Foundation. 1988

Katinsky, Julio Roberto, Brasilia en vas tempos a arquitetura de Oscar Niemeyer na capital, Rio de Janeiro: Editora Revan, 1991

Mindlin, Henrique, Modern Architecture in Brazil, New York: Reinhold. 1956

Papadaki, Stamo, The work of Oscar Niemeyer, New York: Reinhold, 1950

Papadaki, Stamo, Oscar Niemeyer, works in progress, New York: Reinhold. 1956

Papadaki, Stamo, Oscar Niemeyer, New York, G. Braziller, 1960

Santos, Cecilia Rodrigues dos et all, Le Corbusier e a Brasil, São Paolo: Tessela, Projecto Editoria, 1987

Spade, Rupert, and Yukio Futagawa, Oscar Niemeyer, Master of modern architecture, London: Thames and Hudson, 1971

Underwood, David, Oscar Niemeyer and the Architecture of Brazil, New York: Rizzoli, 1994

Underwood, David, Oscar Niemeyer and Brazilian Free-Form Modernism, New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1994









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