Sunday, 10 February 2013

The Curves of Time – Oscar Niemeyer, architect



The death of Oscar Niemeyer, at 104, caught my attention before Christmas which through the creation of Brasilia, Brazil’s capital, took me back to my school days – some moons ago.
Composite of Brasilia: National Congress;
Juscelino Kubitschek bridge; buildings of
Brasilia; Palacio da Alvorada;
Brasilia Cathedral


I loved Geography and was fascinated when I found that Brasilia was in the middle of Brazil – not on a river ... but high on a jungle plateau.  My attention was captured with the capital – we had London on a river, Paris on the Seine, Rome on the Tiber – weren’t all capitals built on rivers.


Capitals of countries and urban planning will make another interesting post – but today Niemeyer holds my attention ... especially as he influenced Dame Zaha Hadid (the Iraqi-British architect) who was commissioned to build the London Aquatics Centre at the Olympics and has designed many spectacularly different architectural projects around the world.


Back to Oscar ... he said in an interview in 2000, that “he’s not attracted to straight angles or to the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man.  I am attracted to free-flowing, sensual curves ...


... those curves that I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean, and on the body of the beloved woman.


Curves make up the entire Universe, the curved Universe of Einstein.”


Auditorium Oscar Niemeyer International
Cultural Centre, Aviles, Spain
An ‘Influencer of the World’ – a man himself influenced by the giant of 20th century modern architecture, Le Corbusier, with whom he was able to collaborate during periods of his life.


Niemeyer was a visionary, who through his interpretation of those curves could be called the concrete poet ... he has nearly 600 buildings or complexes to his name ...


... he put Brazil on the architectural map and ‘saw’ the future of Brazil before Brazil itself did ... the civic buildings he designed in the new capital were all completed in a few years.


The National Congress of Brazil, the Cultural Complex of the Republic, the Palacio da Alvorada, the Palacio do Planalto, the Supreme Federal Court and the Cathedral of Brasilia were all largely experimental in nature, but linked with common design elements.


A window in the Cathedral, Brasilia:
showing the interior with angel sculptures
The atheist with leftist views was well aware of life’s injustices ... yet this never stopped him from designing religious buildings, which span from small Catholic chapels, through to huge Orthodox churches and large mosques. 


He also catered to the spiritual beliefs of the public who facilitated his religious buildings ... the large glass windows in the Cathedral of Brasilia, he intended to “connect the people to the sky, where their Lord’s paradise is”.




He had in early life been influenced by the Dutch School – painters, designers, sculptors and architects of the 17th century, the medieval-Renaissance enlightened artists who exemplified the stylistic evolution ...

Panorama including the church of St Francis of Assisi,
Belo Horizonte,  Minas Gerais, SE Brazil (1943)

... those ‘disastrous’ buildings of Brasilia when opened in the 1950s – but then the world caught up and the miracle appeared – he had faith and passion by  encouraging the architectural movement to change with the times and keep ahead of the game ...


The simple, frugal man worked from a very small studio in Rio: an inner sanctum for his books and where he received, then a studio room with no desks, no computers ... he never did drawings – he just did and presented his designs at one sitting ...


He had one or two assistants to hone the drawings into workable models, but the visionary eye stood him in good stead during those long years of work.


The Serpentine Gallery Summer Pavilion
(an annual temporary structure)
At age 96, Niemeyer was called to design the Serpentine Gallery Summer Pavilion in Hyde Park, London, a gallery that each year invites a famous architect, who never previously built in the UK, to design a temporary structure.



To quote The Guardian:  And yet the pavilion very nearly failed to happen: the architect initially said no.  He is, after all, a busy man running his studio pretty much every day of the year.


Julia Peyton-Jones, director of the Serpentine, flew to Rio to plead personally with Niemeyer and he gave in.


A sketch flew off his drawing board and was worked on by his long-time collaborator, the engineer Jose Carlos Sussekind.  In London, Arups’ engineering team performed their magic and the structure was ready.”

Perspective of the Oscar Niemeyer Museum
showing the lenticular eye tower and gallery
space, the ramp leading to it, the reflecting
ponds below, and rectangular galleries behind.
Located in Curitiba - the 8th most populous city
in SE Brazil 

He had the courage of his convictions throughout his long life – he tested boundaries, he went beyond, he took risks ... there was no cowardice, there was enthusiasm.


Niemeyer continued to talk the language of the young iconoclast of his youth ... we have to be ready to resist active mediocrity ... it is necessary to not be afraid of your passion.


He stirred my educational strings by designing the architectural elements of the new federal capital located in the Brazilian Highlands, and now once again stirs it ...


... Brasilia with its population of over 3 million is one of the largest cities in Brazil ... while it is the largest city in the world that did not exist at the beginning of the 20th century.


This weekend is Carnival time in Rio, where Niemeyer had an apartment overlooking Ipanema Beach, and where he had mostly lived, though he had a period of exile ...


... he died in his beloved city of Rio leaving behind innumerable thought provoking creations for us to marvel over as the years progress and to watch his visionary take on architecture continue to unfold.


I’ve been taken back, yet taken forward ... there’s much to appreciate that this incredible man has touched in his life time ... Brazil is the popular destination as far as the world and major events are concerned ... I am sure there will be opportunities to spend some time with Niemeyer’s work as the media explore Brazil for us.

The Guardian article: Oscar Niemeyer's Serpentine Pavilion 2003

Oscar Niemeyer - Wikipedia

Brasilia - Wikipedia


Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

59 comments:

Yvonnes Poetry Corner said...

This post Hilary was so interesting, I didn't know much about that part of the world yet you brought it to life as I sit at my pc on this horrible rainy Sunday,
Take care.

Yvonne.

Manzanita said...

Hilary,
You did it again, another inspiring post. It makes me want to go out and create something.
Here's a phrase worthy of making one's mantra... "Ready to resist active mediocrity." Ohhh, I like that.
Another thing, you called him simple, frugal and I've noticed that this is true of so many artists of purity. Their genius lies in their creations and they are almost unaware of their own personal surroundings.

Melissa Ann Goodwin said...

What an interesting story! A man who stuck by his convictions, followed his heart - what an inspiration. I like the use of curves - his designs are really cool.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Ironic he was an atheist.

Val Poore said...

Fantastic post, Hilary. What an inspiration. This means much to me as my own father was an architect who loved the modern sweeping structures of truly creative architects. He was a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright, the Bauhaus movement and probably Niemeyer as well except I don't remember him mentioning him. Niemeyer was a little older but not much, so maybe he was too contemporary. I love the images you've placed here. I am now going to look for more! Thank you!

Julia Hones said...

Amazing post and wonderful pictures. I will share it with my mum, who happens to be an architect... hugs.

Jo said...

Never really been interested in modern architecture, but you stirred my curiosity. Thanks.

Optimistic Existentialist said...

Sounds as if Oscar Niemeyer lived an amazing and wonderful life.

Gattina said...

He certainly was a genius ! and 104 years old, not bad ! I love architecture and a city which has impressed me very much was Chicago, that's really center for future architects.

Suze said...

These pieces are just extraordinary, Hil, especially the Serpentine Summer Pavilion. This,

'The atheist with leftist views was well aware of life’s injustices ... yet this never stopped him from designing religious buildings'

nabbed my attention particularly.

You always choose such singular topics. Well done.

Janie Junebug said...

Curves of the body -- almost erotic architecture. Very interesting.

Love,
Janie

A Lady's Life said...

Such men leave a legacy behind them for people to remember them by.
To think he lived so long a life is also a spectacular feat.
Brazil lost a wonderful man.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Yvonne - so pleased it cheered you up a little on this foul day ..

@ Manzanita - I enjoyed writing this - such a creative man and such fun to find out more .. then I could relook at Brasilia again after many decades!

It's interesting how some get power in their heads isn't it - it's possible to be humble and carry on with life, despite success. So pleased you made this aspect to your comment.

@ Melissa - I wish I was more knowledgeable about architecture - still I've learnt something here - even if a woman's curves can inspire buildings!

@ Alex - yes and a marxist ... but his mind was open to all things ..

@ Val - thanks so much. How wonderful it's reminded you of your father ... and his interest in Frank Lloyd Wright ...

... we had a film society film on Frank Gehry ... I think - it was fascinating .. perhaps they'll make one on Niemeyer later on.

Enjoy your search .. there was lots to link across to ...

@ Julia - I'll be so interested to hear what your mother thinks of my post?! Or perhaps I won't ...?

@ Jo - I don't understand lots of things .. but I love the learning experience and my mind has broadened so much ... glad I've stirred your curiosity ..

@ Keith - I think he did live a great life ...

@ Gattina - I know a fulfilled life to put it mildly ... I've never been to Chicago - one day perhaps!

@ Suze - so pleased I put the temporary structure of the Serpentine Pavilion in as a photo ... and the views he held - he never restricted his creative space, even if his beliefs didn't go in that direction ...

I like to write about different things - I don't like being the same ...

So pleased the topic appeals - cheers Hilary

Clarissa Draper said...

I love curves in buildings. What a fascinating look into that city. I would love to visit someday.

Sherry Ellis said...

What talent! I really like his designs.

Old Kitty said...

Thank heavens for visionaries like Mr Niemeyers - and what a legacy!! Love love love these sensual curves! And he built a city - started with a blank canvas and populated it with his creativity!. And now people live there! Now that's truly legendary!

Take care
x

klahanie said...

Hi Hilary,

A fascinating and informative insight on the rather varied life of Oscar Niemeyer. And the legacy left behind, notably Brasilia, will have a lasting impact. And how little I hear of the capital of Brazil. Yet, it's always held a fascination for me.

Time for a Carnival.

Thank you for this article, Hilary. A thoughtful distraction for me.

Stay warm, it's getting cold again.

Gary

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

What an interesting post, Hilary. Like Alex, I also find it ironic that this genius considered himself to be an atheist. I mean, look at the way he recognized and emulated the natural beauty of nature's curves, and his creations are both inspired... and inspiring. Thank you for sharing some of this extraordinary architect's story and designs.

Teresa Coltrin said...

I've always said I should have been an architect because I'm in love with building designs. When I travel I love photographing unusual buildings.

Very beautiful architecture and talented architect.

You are a great architect of words, my dear.

Chuck said...

Hilary, once again you make me fell I have led a sheltered life. I had never heard of Oscar and certainly never knew his works. His life is a clinic on how to live to 104! His architecture is impressive. Thanks for educating me yet again.

Patsy said...

He did a great job with those curves, didn't he?

TALON said...

Amazing shapes he created. They sing with life, don't they? I think it's wonderful the Summer Olympics will be in Brazil - it will give them a chance to let their country shine and people will learn a lot about them.

Chatty Crone said...

104 is a long life. I had never heard of him and don't know much about Brazil - so I found this very interesting. Thanks for the lesson. sandie

Botanist said...

I find so much modern architecture is sterile and pretentious, but this is designed to be used and lived in. And I had no knowledge of Brasilia before. Just looked it up on Google Maps, fascinating layout - you can tell it's a new city just from the air.

Stephen Tremp said...

I love curved architecture. I do not care for symmetry in buildings. Too boring. Anything different will catch my attention.

Thanks for introducing me to Oscar. I did not know who he was until now.

Shannon Lawrence said...

I love that he drew and presented his designs in the same sitting. The epitome of an artist. Fantastic!

Shannon at The Warrior Muse

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Janie - it is exceedingly interesting to look at ...

@ A Lady's Life - he will be remembered through his creations and buildings that we will see for many years ..

@ Clarissa - I'd join you on a visit ..

@ Sherry - you have that creative mind and can 'see' those designs ..

@ Old Kitty - the blank canvas for Brasilia was an amazing opportunity - and to create it with Brazil's urban planner, Oscar as the principal architect and Roberto Burle Marx as the landscape planner must have provided a tremendous challenge in the 1950s - but they succeeded beyond belief probably ...

It's the federal capital of Brazil .. so millions live there ...

@ Gary - like me I guess somewhere in our early life the fact Brasilia was new and was a capital was a strange fact - and thus we remembered it ... I'd love to see it now ..

Carnival time in Rio - they're now testing the infrastructure for the major events that will be held in the city in the next couple of years ... the Olympics finally in 2016.

I'm glad the post gave you another distraction .. and it is cold, but we're very wet!

@ Susan - it is strange this mix of atheism, yet belief in his creative ideas. He didn't conform that's for sure and just acknowledged nature by emulating it ... delighted you enjoyed the post.

@ Teresa - or a photographer ... and it's interesting to read you feel you'd have loved to be an architect, in fact wanted to be one ..

He has certainly tempted me to go and look at his buildings more closely ... many thanks for your compliment ...

@ Chuck – thanks so much ... delighted you enjoyed the post – it’s just interesting to hear and read new things isn’t it ... and I love your take on his life as a clinic and a way for living ...

@ Patsy – the curves are fascinating aren’t they ..

@ Talon – I think that’s an excellent phrase ‘they sing with life’; There’s a couple of major world events in Rio before the Olympics in 2016 ... the football and something else I can’t remember now! All of these will showcase Brazil and its country ..

@ Sandie – that’s great to read ... and 104 – is a long life isn’t it ..

@ Ian – I agree .. but it’s mainly the planners, who agree designs that are sterile because we (the populace) feel safe with them ...

I’d never thought to look at Google maps and see the town from the air ... and must look it out – a new city though with over 3m people in and around the city itself – in only 60+ years ... makes me wonder in amazement, I understand the layout looks like a butterfly, or the outline of an aeroplane ...

@ Stephen – I much prefer something different (nooks and crannies) ... anything as long as it’s not boxes. Glad you enjoyed meeting this Oscar ..

@ Shannon – I’m not an artist then ... if I get asked something I almost always have to take it away and think about it! Great comment ....

Thanks everyone – so pleased you enjoyed meeting Mr Niemeyer and hearing a little about Brasilia ... have good weeks – the snows in NEStates sound as though they have caused a lot of havoc .. my thoughts ... Hilary

P V Ariel said...

Great creations, but sad to say, as Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said... Ironic he was an atheist. This is really a sad note. i came across another gentleman who created the Malayalam Bible in the unicode language spending over 9 years. This uniquie ones creator too is an atheist, though by name he is a muslim. you can read about him in one of my blog posts. you can read that here at this link. Ariel's Jottings

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

What amazing architechture! It really is an art form. Thanks for sharing this with us, Hilary.

Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

What an interesting post and I love the designs. Keep warm Diane

L.G. Smith said...

What a great life to stay in demand and busy until the end. And I'm not very religious either, but I love the architecture of cathedrals and churches. They're beautiful.

Southpaw said...

Still creating at 96? That's is inspiring. His work is breathtaking.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Sometimes I feel like a displaced 18 century being. Modernism has never appealed to me. But you know what they say -- there are cave dwellers and then there are those who like the open. Which come to think of it doesn't make sense now because I just realized I'm in the middle somewhere.

Your knowledge astonishes me, Carole. I've learned more from you since we've met than my entire high school history classes.

Julia Hones said...

I am also very curious to know what my mother has to say about his style. I will let you know. She hasn't replied to my e-mail yet.

Karen Lange said...

Wow, 104 years old! That is something. Thanks for this info; I was not aware of all of this. Interesting stuff! No surprise here; I always come away from your blog informed. :)

Have a great week,
Karen

Janet Johnson said...

What a fascinating man! Amazing that he was still so active at 96. I want to be like that. Never stop doing the things I love and finding inspiration in the world. :)

M. Reka said...

This post, Hilary was so really interesting.Thanks for sharing this info with us.
Hugs
marinela

Patricia said...

Oh Hilary what a great post - thanks for sharing. I just finished a book about Frank Lloyd Wright - actually about one of his mistresses - and the curves of Niemeyer might have come from Wrights influence
We had a Cat named Le Corbusier - a grey and white unit.

My husband has designed two angular bank buildings which were supposed to have solar power on them (banks chickened out - instead of leading the way) They are sitting with a direct view of Mount Rainier and they repeat that mountain...in form and shape...He was very influenced by these three architects in his designs and of course our natural world
Nice work

Theresa Milstein said...

Such striking photographs. Architecture can be art.

I've never been to Brazil, but my husband went to visit relatives when he was 18. Rio sounds like a fun place.

Inger said...

I heard he died and I knew his name, but didn't remember what his contributions were. And here you go again, with all this detailed research and information and the gorgeous photos of his work. Thank you so much for this.

Leigh Covington said...

Curves are definitely a fun and different form of architecture. Too often we look to the straight lines and angles, but I love the curves too! Beautiful!

juliet said...

Hilary, thank you so much for introducing me to this inspirational man. I love the Spanish pavilion - so simple and fresh, and also what he says about curves. I'd never heard of him. You keep on educating me!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ PV - good to see you - we are who we are - but thanks for your comment.

@ Elizabeth and Diane - glad you both enjoyed see one or two of his designs .. I too know more about him now!

@ Luanne - his creations seem to be appropriate for their landscape - while the Brasilia Cathedral looks awe inspiring and as you say they are beautiful ...

@ Holly - well he was creating til he was over 100 I think ... and that I guess kept him going ..

@ Joylene - I was like you, then I started to look around - took me a while, but writing the blog opened my eyes even more: as I need to learn and appreciate as I write the post.

It's interesting how I've changed as I get older ... and that knowledge really helps me appreciate life ...

@ Julia - that will be interesting to hear your mother's take on this layman's approach to architecture ..

@ Karen - I aim to please and to give you all something to 'amuse' .. thanks

@ Janet - I'll join you in that goal - never stop doing, or learning and finding inspiration in the world - yes, absolutely!!

@ Marinela - glad you enjoyed it

@ Patricia - thought you might find this post interesting. I saw a film on Gehry - that the film society put on .. it was fascinating ...

How great to have a cat called Le Corbusier ... a grey and white unit - fun.

I knew your hubby is an architect - so thought you'd appreciate this post .. glad you felt well enough to come over ... and I remembered he is avant garde in his approach to his work ..

@ Theresa - so pleased you appreciate the post and photos ... I'd love to go to Brazil - and at least your husband has had that brief experience .. though I guess Rio is very different to the rest of Brazil. We'll be seeing and hearing so much more before the next summer Olympics ...

@ Inger - it was Brasilia that triggered the interest ... but I'm so pleased everyone else seems to be enjoying the post ...

@ Leigh - I love the colours included, but his work certainly stands out and was ahead of his time but now blends in so well - the curves are something aren't they ..

@ Juliet - yes the Spanish Pavilion stood out for me too .. and I love your description: so simple and fresh ... deighted you enjoyed the post ..

Thank you so much everyone - pancake day today! Cheers Hilary

Lynn said...

I had not really known about this man before - thank you for the glimpse into his life and architecture. Fascinating.

Elise Fallson said...

What an interesting individual. You can't hide passion, and it shows that Oscar Niemeyer was passionate about his work. Amazing.

Laura Eno said...

He designed such beauty - and without preliminary drawings? Wow, I didn't know about that. Such a rich, full life he led. May we all be so fortunate and learn by his example. He made it happen - as we all must.

Francene Stanley said...

No cowardice, just enthusiasm. Wouldn't it be a wonderful world if we were all like this?

Nick Wilford said...

Interesting stuff, Hilary. Quite an inspiration, I only hope I stay passionate and creative to such an old age!

Sara said...

It is amazing that some people are so ahead of their time and very lucky when what they create actually is called "visionary" and it's meant in a good way:~)

I like all the curves. I've never liked square buildings...

This was my favorite line in this wonderful and informative post:

"He had the courage of his convictions throughout his long life – he tested boundaries, he went beyond, he took risks ... there was no cowardice, there was enthusiasm."

That's a quote for a life well lived:~)

Tara Tyler said...

gorgeous architecture!
and the world caught up, a true visionary!
i'd love to visit brazil some day!

Deniz Bevan said...

I hadn't known about any of this, Hilary, thanks for the mini eye-opener!
I'll have to look out for the pavilion next time I'm able to visit London.
And 104, wow! Still designing buildings in his 90s, how amazing.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Lynn - so pleased you enjoyed it ..

@ Elise - you're so creative you probably understand him very well ..

@ Laura - straight off the cuff (so to speak) .. then to interpret them .. but he had plenty of help - engineers, collaborators to bring them to life ..

You're right: He made it happen - as we all must for our own work ..

@ Francene - the world would be much better - enthusiastic and without cowardice ...

@ Nick - you're doing a wonderful job at the moment ... especially with the fund-raising for Andrew ..

@ Sara - yes, we caught up with him didn't we ... in some ways many are still coming round to accepting that sort of approach to buildings ..

I just hate being confined and little boxes!

He certainly knew what he wanted to do from early on and was determined to follow that path - he succeeded with his dreams ... and as you say a quote for a life well lived ...

@ Tara - so glad you enjoyed the post .. and I too would like to visit Brazil sometime ..

@ Deniz - there's a new pavilion each summer - so it'll be another visionary architect this year.

He had a full life and was only just off 105 ... but way to live and to go ..

Cheers everyone - have happy rest of the weeks .. Hilary

Empty Nest Insider said...

It's amazing that he lived to be 104, and still designed a magnificent structure at 96.
Julie

Friko said...

Niemeyer was a great talent, I love his visionary buildings.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Those are some lovely buildings -- very daring!

And Brasilia is the largest city in the world that didn't exist at the beginning of the 20th century? Fascinating!

Denise Covey said...

Hi Hilary,

I was riveted by Michael Palin's recent series set in Brazil. I was fascinated to learn so much about Brasilia.

Denise

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Julie - he must have come from very strong stock .. but his strength of character shone through too .. he was incredible wasn't he ..

@ Friko - you probably know more about him than I do .. i.e. knew of him .. I've never really moved in that field - but am coming to appreciate all things ..

@ Dianne - I'd love to be able to visualise things as an architect or engineer does ... his creations must be breath-taking.

That fact about being the largest city in the world that didn't exist 100 years ago is incredible isn't it ..

@ Denise - I missed Palin in South America .. I must look out for it - then I'd see more ... I'm sure that will be repeated by the BBC in due course as all these major world events are scheduled to take place .. You love travelling too ...

Thanks Julie, Friko, Dianne and Denise .. cheers from a warmer, but wet England! Hilary

Elise Fallson said...

Hi Hilary! I know you are on a blogging break, but I did want to let you know I passed a little blogging award your way. Hope you are well! (:

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Elise .. many thanks I had scanned through but missed my name! Appreciate your thought .. I'm pretty hopeless at these - love getting them .. then they gather dust .. and I rarely get round to doing anything .. sorreeee - but you did give me that option! Cheers - Hilary