Friday, 7 December 2012

Oscar Niemeyer, 1907 - 2012

Oscar Niemeyer, Niterói Museum of Contemporary Art, 1996
Oscar Niemeyer died on 5 December 2012.
It is extraordinary to realise that Niemeyer, who has died at the age of 104, was working closely with no less a figure than Le Corbusier more than 70 years ago; Niemeyer first encountered him in 1929 and again later in 1936.
Niemeyer's late work (completed 1996) the Niterói Museum of Contemporary Art, across the bay from Rio de Janeiro, is hailed as 
a modern triumph, something that deserves to be considered alongside such great buildings as Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater; Le Corbusier's chapel at Ronchamp and Mies van der Rohe's Farnworth house. (Glancey and Pawley)
However, Niemeyer's major monument will be the 'futuristic' city of Brasilia for which he designed all the principal public buildings.Many of these have become icons of Modernism. Not all commentators have been admiring. The late Robert Hughes (see below) was withering: in  Trouble in Utopia, a chapter in his essay on modern art, The Shock of the New, he wrote: 
Only one city in the West has ever been built from scratch along the strict, Corbusean schema of Utopian modernist town planning. Brasilia... was going to be the City of the Future - the triumph of sunlight, reason, and the automobile... It looked splendid in the drawings and photographs... The reality of the place is markedly less noble. Brasilia was finished... in 1960, and ever since then it has been falling to bits... It is a vast example of what happens when people design for an imagined Future, rather than for a real world.
Brasilia, in less than twenty years, ceased to be the City of Tomorrow and turned into yesterday's science fiction. It is an expensive and ugly testimony to the fact that, when men think in terms of abstract space rather than real place... they tend to produce miles of jerry-built nowhere... The experiment, one may hope, will not be repeated; the utopian buck stops here.(Robert Hughes (1980) "The Shock of the new", London: BBC, pp210-11)
For a more sympathetic and enthusiastic view, see obituary by Jonathan Glancey and Martin Pawley.
In 1987 Brasila was made a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Oscar Niemeyer, Le Corbusier, et al, Ministry of Education, Rio de Janeiro, 1950
Oscar Niemeyer, The National Congress, Brasilia, c 1960

Oscar Niemeyer , Cicillo Matarazzo pavilion in Ibirapuera Park, São Paulo, 1957 (?)
Oscar Niemeyer, The Centro Cultural Oscar Niemeyer in Asturias, Spain
Oscar Niemeyer, The Centro Cultural Oscar Niemeyer in Asturias, Spain

Oscar Niemeyer, auditorium in Ravello, Italy, 2009

Oscar Niemeyer, Niterói Museum of Contemporary Art, 1996