One of Brazil’s most famous sons, and perhaps the last great Modernist, Oscar Niemeyer, has died aged 104. From Rio de Janeiro he was born in 1907, graduated in the mid 1930s and worked until well after his 100th birthday. As a life long communist he was forced into exile in 1964 when his country was taken over by a military dictatorship. He moved to France but his work took him all over the world. He returned to Rio in the 1980s.
He planned the city of Brasilia and designed many of its key buildings including the National Cathedral, the key ministries, and the National Museum of Brazil amongst many others. He also designed much of its housing. Brasilia is now a Unesco World Heritage site, and is the only modern city to be afforded such recognition.
Niemeyer’s careerer boasts many incredible buildings and his work is instantly recognized around the world. But his work has arguably had less impact on the profession than some of his peers. Corbusier for example was 20 years his senior and died in 1965, but is far better known. In part this might be because Niemeyer followed Corbusier. And although his style was very different, Corbusier was the aesthetic pioneer in many ways.
Then there was Niemeyer’s politics. Being a communist effectively precluded him from working in certain countries during certain periods. Finally I would argue that the material he best worked with, reinforced concrete, fell out of favour in the temperate and cool climates of the north. In these locations, environmental performance dictated that building construction would become more layered thus reducing concrete’s ability as an expressive material.
Niemeyer must have seen fashion ebb and flow in his long career but his architectural standards have always been of the very highest order.
Visit the BBC for an obituary.