MODERNIST MONDAY: Oscar Niemeyer

Welcome back to #ModernistMondays! At TTC, we are constantly inspired by modernist architects and artists from past and present. To showcase some of our favorites, we launched #ModernistMondays, where we highlight one modernist each month to explore with ten quick facts. You can keep up with #ModernistMondays on the TTC Blog, or our Instagram page! For this month’s profile, learn the history of Brazilian Modernist and revolutionary, Oscar Niemeyer.

Born in 1907, Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer is referred to as one of the world’s preeminent Modernists, with hundreds of works around the world. Niemeyer attended Brazil’s National School of Fine Arts, and began drafting for architects, including Lúcio Costa while he was still a student. Soon after graduating he married Annita Baldo, whom he was with until her passing in 2004.

In 1936, Niemeyer joined fellow Modernists, including his mentor Lúcio Costa and Le Corbusier for a project in Rio de Janeiro. Corbusier became too busy for the project, and impressed by his work, Costa invited Niemeyer to take over as the lead architect. At age 29, Niemeyer was becoming a prodigal new architect working among masters.

Ministry of Education and Health (L), Niemeyer and Costa (R)

When the project, the Ministry of Education and Health, was completed in 1945 it quickly became a national centerpiece and drew attention from around the world.

For his first solo work, Niemeyer accepted a 1941 commission from Juscelino Kubitschek, who was then a mayor and later elected president. Selected to design a complex in the Pampulha district which Kubitschek governed, Neimeyer employed his modern shapes and curves throughout. After completion, the Pampulha complex included a church, a casino, a dance hall, a restaurant, a yacht and golf club, and Kubitschek’s vacation home.

An aerial view of a Pampulha complex building (L), the Pampulha church (R)

Fifteen years later, Kubitschek, who was now the president of Brazil, invited Niemeyer to design a large-scale project alongside Lúcio Costa: a new capital for the country of Brazil built on modernist design principles. He served as chief architect for Brazil’s national building authority from 1956-1961 and designed multiple key buildings for the new capital, known as Brasília, which he also renovated in the 1980s.

Key buildings by Niemeyer in Brasília

During Brazilian political unrest in the early 60s, Niemeyer’s office was raided, and he began to work elsewhere. During this time, he worked internationally, and became associated with communism in the Soviet Union, and with Cuban leader Fidel Castro. He designed a Parisian headquarters for the French Communist Party, whose left-wing ideologies coincided with his own. In 1963, he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize.

Internal and external views of the French Communist Party headquarters

In the late 60s, Niemeyer designed Constantine University, a college in Algeria. He was selected for the project by Houari Boumédiène, chairman of Algeria’s Council of Revolution, who wanted a similar city to Neimeyer’s previously completed Brasília.

Constantine University’s primary building

As the leader of several large scale, internationally recognized projects, Niemeyer was a global example of architecture’s future: modernism. For his contributions to design and culture, he was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1988. In 1992, Niemeyer became leader of Brazil’s Communist Party, of which he had been a member since 1945.

Niemeyer inside one of his projects

Even after his 100th birthday, Niemeyer was actively designing new work. In Spain, the Oscar Niemeyer International Cultural Centre was inaugurated in 2011, when Niemeyer was 104. The Oscar Niemeyer Foundation headquarters, which opened in 2010, advocates architectural preservation and research.

The Oscar Niemeyer Foundation headquarters (L), Oscar Niemeyer International Cultural Centre (R)

In 2012, Niemeyer passed away after a seven-decade career. At the end of his life, Niemeyer was responsible for many of Brazil’s landmarks and some of the most celebrated buildings in South America. His footprint abroad encouraged intercontinental interest in modernism, making him one of history’s most respected architects. 

A portrait of Niemeyer

SOURCES:

“Oscar Niemeyer,” Britannica; “Oscar Niemeyer’s Algerian architecture uncovered,” Wallpaper; “Oscar Niemeyer,” Wikipedia