With all eyes on on Brazil, we’ve decided to explore Brazilian design, and there is only one place to start, and that is with the legendary architect, Oscar Niemeyer and his modern masterpieces.
Curves are the essence of my work because they are the essence of Brazil, pure and simple.
Both praised and criticized for being a ‘sculptor of monuments’, Niemeyer developed an architecture characterised by voluminous, curving forms, soaring spans of reinforced exposed concrete, purity of line, and formal lyricism. He is perhaps best remembered for his organic shapes and is often credited with introducing sensuality into modernist architecture.
He worked alongside Le Corbusier on the UN buildings in New York and his designs for Brasília earned the city a Unesco World Heritage status. He was also a lifelong communist and built the Communist Party headquarters in Paris, while also acknowledging that lots of his buildings were the province of the rich, but he hoped the less well-off would take pleasure in his work too.
In 1956, Juscelino Kubitschek, the president of Brazil and a close friend of Niemeyer, asked Niemeyer to become the new chief architect of public buildings in the country’s new capital, Brasilia, a Modernist civic metropolis being built from scratch. Niemeyer accepted, designing buildings that went along with his utopian vision of government.
“This was a liberating time,” he said. “It seemed as if a new society was being born, with all the traditional barriers cast aside …. when planning the government buildings for Brasilia I decided they should be characterized by their own structures within the prescribed shapes … I tried to push the potential of concrete to its limits, especially at the load-bearing points, which I wanted to be as delicate as possible so that it would seem as if the palaces barely touched the ground.
I pick up my pen. It flows. A building appears.
“I deliberately disregarded the right angle and rationalist architecture designed with ruler and square to boldly enter the world of curves and straight lines offered by reinforced concrete. […] This deliberate protest arose from the environment in which I lived, with its white beaches, its huge mountains, its old baroque churches, and the beautiful suntanned women.”
I was attracted by the curve — the liberated, sensual curve suggested by the possibilities of new technology yet so often recalled in venerable old baroque churches.
Niemeyer was one of the last major representatives of modern architecture, which had been established by his predecessors and role models like Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Alvar Aalto. At the same time, he is credited with the transition to post-modernism. The curves in his architecture, he said, were a protest again the International Style.
My work is not about ‘form follows function,’ but ‘form follows beauty’ or, even better, ‘form follows feminine’
In his later years, Niemeyer had the privilege of witnessing how his buildings influenced his successors. The two most significant are British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas of Holland, both of whom have received the renowned Pritzker Prize just as Niemeyer had in 1988.
He has left a legacy of curvy buildings inspired by the female form that populate Brazil’s capital, Brasília, and beyond.