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Biography

Oscar Niemeyer (1907-2012) was born in the hillside district of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and studied at the Academy of Fine Arts there. Niemeyer’s architecture, conceived as lyrical sculpture, expands on the principles and innovations of Le Corbusier to become a kind of free-form sculpture.

In 1938-39 he designed the Brazilian Pavilion for the New York World’s Fair in collaboration with Lucio Costa. His celebrated career began to blossom with his involvement with the Ministry of Education and Health (1945) in Rio de Janeiro. Niemeyer’s mentor, Lucio Costa, architect, urban planner, and renowned pioneer of Modern architecture in Brazil, led a group of young architects who collaborated with Le Corbusier to design the building which became a landmark of modern Brazilian architecture. It was while Niemeyer was working on this project that he met the mayor of Brazil's wealthiest state, Juscelino Kubitschek, who would later become President of Brazil. As President, he appointed Niemeyer in 1956 to be the chief architect of Brasilia, the new capital of Brazil, his designs complementing Lucio Costa’s overall plans. The designs for many buildings in Brasilia would occupy much of his time for many years.

"As an architect," he states, "my concern in Brasilia was to find a structural solution that would characterize the city's architecture. So I did my very best in the structures, trying to make them different with their columns narrow, so narrow that the palaces would seem to barely touch the ground. And I set them apart from the facades, creating an empty space through which, as I bent over my work table, I could see myself walking, imagining their forms and the different resulting points of view they would provoke.

Internationally, he collaborated with Le Corbusier again on the design for the United Nations Headquarters (1947-53) in New York, contributing significantly to the siting and final design of the buildings. His own residence (1953) in Rio de Janeiro has become a landmark. In the 1950s, he designed an Aeronautical Research Center near Sao Paulo. In Europe, he undertook an office building for Renault and the Communist Party Headquarters (1965) both in Paris, a cultural centre for Le Havre (1972), and in Italy, the Mondadori Editorial Office (1968) in Milan and the FATA Office Building (1979) in Turin. In Algiers, he designed the Zoological Gardens, the University of Constantine, and the Foreign Office.

"I have always," says Niemeyer, "accepted and respected all other schools of architecture, from the chill and elemental structures of Mies van der Rohe to the imagination and delirium of Gaudi. I must design what pleases me in a way that is naturally linked to my roots and the country of my origin.” Niemeyer continues:

When I started to design the Museum of Modern Art for Niteroi, I already had an idea in mind. An abstract circular form above the landscape, and the site free of other constructions to better emphasize the building. I did not want to repeat the usual solutions of a cylinder above another, but to move in the direction of the design for the Caracas Museum (a design by Niemeyer from 1954), creating a line that would rise with curves and straight lines from the ground up to the roof. The exhibition hall would be surrounded by straight walls—I did not want it glazed—but with exits for the external gallery that would encircle it, integrating it in the magnificent panorama.

As often happens, this solution calling for a central support sustaining only the exhibition room was modified. With the addition of one meter in height on the radial beams, measuring one meter and a half, we would add a new floor, including the 'foyer,' the reception room, the auditorium, work rooms, library and bathrooms. This would result in a more complete and economical project.

My architecture followed the old examples -beauty prevailing over the limitations of the constructive logic. My work proceeded, indifferent to the unavoidable criticism set forth by those who take the trouble to examine the minimum details, so very true of what mediocrity is capable of. It was enough to think of Le Corbusier saying to me once while standing on the ramp of the Congress: `There is invention here'.

Although semi-retired, he still works at the drawing board and welcomes young architects from all over the world. He hopes to instill in them the sensitivity to aesthetics that allowed him to strive for beauty in the manipulation of architectural forms.