Niemeyer’s concrete poetry

He’s the pioneering architect to bloom simply unforgettable works.

By Fátima Mesquita


Museu do Olho, Curitiba, Brazil

On the verge of being 100 years old, Oscar Niemeyer, the lover of curved concrete and philosophy books, still works every day in his office at Copacabana beach, sometimes even during the weekend. He’s the pioneering Brazilian architect responsible for injecting lyricism where before there was only science and function, making it possible to bloom simply unforgettable works.

 In 1940, the mayor of Belo Horizonte, Juscelino Kubitschek (JK), commissioned Niemeyer his first job: to design the Pampulha complex, a set of buildings around an artificial lake in the suburbs of the city. Today, the São Francisco de Assis Church at Pampulha is considered a true icon of the capital of Minas Gerais state. It also marks the starting point of Niemeyer and JK’s relationship. A link culminating ten years later, after JK became president, with the construction of Brasilia, the new capital city created in the heart of Brazil.

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The Niterói Art Museum was opened in 1996 and since then its striking structure has repeatedly been used as a background for fashion editorials of important magazines from all over the world. It has also been used as the setting of a futuristic TV advertisement for Colgate and is a pilgrimage point for some of the best architects on the planet. The building, a sort of white flying saucer planted on a fantastic cliff spot with the Sugar Loaf mountain rising up behind it, seems to merge with the sea water below, while visitors cross a spiral ramp to view the art inside.

Niemeyer’s motto has always been “surprise and enchantment” and this is very true of the museum that carries his name. Located in Curitiba, the capital of the southern state of Paraná, MON (Museu Oscar Niemeyer) is also known locally as the “Eye Museum”, because of the annex to the main gallery building. It once more presents people with a floating construction – a huge eyelike shape made of concrete and glass with four floors dedicated to art.

Other works: Niemeyer is also the architect behind CIEPS, a series of schools for poor children in Rio de Janeiro, plus a couple of buildings in Algeria, including a university. A passionate communist, who was appalled by the 1964 military coup and subsequent dictatorship in Brazil, Niemeyer went away in a self-exile in 1967, only returning to his homeland in the 1980s. During this time, he designed the Mondadori publishing company headquarters in Italy, as well as the French Communist Party building in Paris. In New York, at the beginning of his career, he collaborated with Le Corbusier in the creation of the UN headquarters. He has also designed buildings in Portugal, Malasia, and Venezuela.