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The architect who designed the buildings housing Brasilia’s most important institutions, Oscar Niemeyer (1907-2012) is a key figure in 20th century Latin American architecture.
He studied at Enba under innovative director Lucio Costa and continued his education by studying South American colonial and Baroque architecture and, above all, the writings of Le Corbusier, his most important source of inspiration.
In 1931 he joined the Costa-Leao studio as a draughtsman and met Le Corbusier in person when he was contacted as a consultant when planning MES, the Ministry of Education and Health in Rio (1936). This gave Niemeyer an opportunity to study his methods, with the result that Costa chose his plans for the construction of the MES (1936-1943).
After making his international debut with the Brazilian Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair in 1938 Niemeyer produced his first independent project: the Grand Hotel in Ouro Preto (1940), which casually combines modern with traditional elements.
But it is above all with the buildings in the suburb of Pampulha that Niemeyer’s own style emerged, made up of “beautiful, sensual curved surfaces, capable of calling up a variety of emotions”, exposing him to criticism for his strong Baroque influence. But Niemeyer undeniably laid the foundations of today’s Brazilian architecture: lightness and simplicity, with a strong presence of decoration and symbolism, all on a monumental scale.
His many government appointments for Novacap, in view of the planning of the new capital, Brasilia, in 1956-1960 saw Niemeyer appointed main architect. The projects included in this vast urban plan included the Presidential Palace, the Praça dos Três Poderes or Plaza of Three Powers, the Civic Museum, the seats of 11 Ministries and the Cathedral, as well as 500 residences in social housing projects.
Back in Rio after the inauguration of Brasilia (1960), Niemeyer continued his career in his bold, personal, energetic and yet balanced style, far removed from exasperated functionalism. Examples include the Mentouri University campus in Constantine, Algeria (1968); Le Havre Cultural Centre (1982) and the Latin American Cultural Centre in San Paolo (1992); Niterói Contemporary Art Museum in Rio (1996) and Curitiba Museum of Plastic Arts (2003), the biggest museum of its kind in South America.
He has received numerous international awards, including the Pritzker Prize (1988), a Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Biennale in Venice (1996), the Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects (1998), and the UNESCO Award for Culture (2001).
Oscar Niemeyer selected projects and works
- Novo Museu, Curitiba, Paranà (Brazil) 2003
- Contemporary Art Museum, Niteroi, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), 1996
- Latin American Cultural Centre, San Paolo (Brazil), 1992
- Anthropology Museum, Belo Horizonte (Brazil), 1978
- Defence Ministry, Brasilia (Brazil), 1972
- Cultural Centre, Le Havre (France), 1972
- Justice Ministry, Brasilia (Brazil), 1970
- University of Mentouri, Constantine (Algeria), 1968
- Federal Court, Brasilia (Brazil), 1960
- Presidential Palace (Palácio do Planalto); National Congress, Brasilia (Brazil), 1960
- Praça dos Três Poderes; Civic Museum; 11 Ministries; Cathedral (1958-1960)
- Our Lady of Fatima Church, Brasilia (Brazil), 1960
- 500 social housing units, Brasilia (Brazil), 1957
- Museum, Caracas (Venezuela), 1955
- Niemeyer home, Canoas, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), 1954
- Duchen Factory, San Paolo (Brazil), 1950
- Pampulha Complex, Belo Horizonte (1940-1942)
- Grand Hotel, Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais (Brazil), (1940)
- Brazilian Pavilion at the World’s Fair, New York (USA), 1938
- Ministry of Education and Health, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), 1936