Sunday, September 8, 2013

Age of achievement...

Hello! We're running some of Leighton's old posts for the next few Sundays. Here's one from Dec. 27, 2010, about Brazil's greatest architect... 

 Age getting you down?
Think you might be getting too old to marry?
Too old to do productive work?
Too old for creative endeavor?
Think again.
And take your inspiration from this guy:
 Oscar Niemeyer married (for the second time) when he was 99.
He turned 103 on the 15th of December.
He still works.
Every day.
And he remains creative as hell.
Oscar Niemeyer is an architect – Brazil’s greatest.
You may not have heard of him.
But you’ve seen his work.
 The UN building was a project that he did together with Le Corbusier in 1947. Niemeyer, back then, was forty years old. Le Corbusier was sixty, and very much the senior man, but most of the design is attributed to Niemeyer.
 This was Niemeyer’s first building on U.S. soil. It’s largely forgotten now, but it was a great sensation at the time. It’s the pavilion he and Lúcio Costa designed for Brazil’s participation in the 1939 World’s Fair.
The innovative nature of the project inspired New York’s mayor of the time,
Fiorello La Guardia, to award Niemeyer the keys of the city.
But was the Pampulha Project, a year later that brought Niemeyer into contact with another mayor – the man who, ultimately, had the major influence in shaping his future life.
 Juscelino Kubitschek was the mayor of Belo Horizonte, the capital of the State of Minas Gerais.
Pampulha was a suburb he wanted to build north of the city.
The work he commissioned Niemeyer to design was the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi, later to become Brazil’s first listed modern monument. The conservative Church authorities of the time refused to consecrate the church, and continued to refuse until 1959, in part because of its unorthodox form…

…and in part because of the depiction of Saint Francis, tiles painted by Candido Portinari.
 Twelve years later, Niemeyer, by now rich and famous, completed this project, 
the Canoas House, his new home in Rio de Janeiro.
And it was here, one September morning in 1956, that he got a visit from his old friend, Juscelino Kubitschek, the newly-elected President of Brazil.
“Oscar,” Kubitschek said, “I am going to build a new capital for this country, and I want you to help me.”
Niemeyer organized a competition for the lay-out of the city (the winner was Niemeyer’s collaborator on the 1939 World’s Fair project, Lúcio Costa) and immediately set to work on the design of the principal buildings now regarded as his greatest works.
Among them are
 the residence of the President, the Palácio da Alvorada,
 the National Congress,
 the Cathedral of Brasilia...
... with its stunning interior...
and the monument he designed in honor of his old friend Juscelino.
 Viewed from above, Brasilia can be seen to have elements that repeat themselves in every building, giving it a formal unity. Niemeyer and Costa used the opportunity Kubitschek had given them to test new concepts of city planning.
But the project also had a socialist ideology: 
in Brasilia all the apartments would be owned by the government and rented to its employees. The city wasn’t going to have wealthy neighborhoods, or middle-class neighborhoods, or poor neighborhoods. Top ministers and common laborers were to share the same buildings.
Of course it didn’t work out that way. In Brazil, with a long history of the great gap between rich and poor, it never could.
But that was the theory in the beginning.
Brasilia was designed, constructed, and inaugurated within four years.
 Niemeyer’s politics, though, continued to be as controversial as his designs. (He’d joined the Brazilian Communist Party in 1945.)
And those politics were to lead to a reversal in his fortunes.
During the military dictatorship, in 1964, he was forced into exile in Paris.
 He stayed away for almost twenty years, returning only in 1985.
But his politics never wavered.
He served as President of Brazil’s Communist Party from 1992 to 1996.
And, even today, remains true to his youthful convictions.
He was offered an opportunity to teach at Yale.
But, because of his leftist leanings, he was denied a visa to enter the United States.
And only three years ago, he designed a statue that he wanted to have erected in Havana.
Symbolic of the “heroic” resistance to the U.S. blockade, it showed a tiger, with its mouth open, being held at bay by a man holding the Cuban flag.
When Fidel Castro saw the design he remarked, "Niemeyer and I are the last Communists on this planet”.
Well, his politics haven’t, perhaps, kept up with the times.
But most folks would say that his work has.
Here's a museum in Curitiba...
...another in Niterói, across Guanabara Bay from Rio de Janeiro and 
his design for a monument to commemorate the achievements of the great football player, Pelé.

In closing here are a few words from Niemeyer about Niemeyer:

“I’m not attracted to hard right angles and inflexible straight lines. My attraction is to curves, the curves of my country’s mountains, of her rivers and of the bodies of her women. The universe is made of curves.”



  1. This is awesome. I remember reading this post when it was first put up here, and thinking what an amazing person.

    Having just looked up his name, found out that he finally did pass away last December at nearly 105. Although he married for the second time at 99, he had been married to his first wife for 76 years until she passed away at 93.

    He probably had a lot of wisdom about keeping a marriage going, in addition to his architectural and other contributions.

  2. This is totally awesome and amazing!!! Thank you for sharing it with the world! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

  3. What a great story. The pictures were amazing and now I feel a little smarter for having read it.

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