Friday18 August 2017

Oscar Niemeyer: a life in buildings

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Prolific and proud, Oscar Niemeyer was still working on live projects when he died. We look back at some of the best buildings from a career spanning over half a century.

1. The Church of São Francisco de Assis, Pampulha Complex, Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 1940

The Pampulha Church, located in the Pampulha district of Belo Horizonte, in the state of Minas Gerais, southeastern Brazil. It is the first listed modern architectural monument in Brazil and consists of four undulating concrete parabolas.

Time Magazine wrote in the early 1940s, that the Archbishop of Belo Horizonte, Antonio dos Santos Cabral, described it as “the devil’s bomb shelter”.

The Church of São Francisco de Assis, Pampulha Complex, Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 1940

Source: Edgar Jimanez

The Church of São Francisco de Assis, Pampulha Complex, Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 1940

2. Ministry of education and health, Rio de Janeiro, 1942

This was Niemeyer’s first great masterpiece. It is also a project on which he met Le Corbusier for the first time (the design team was made up of Brazilian architects, with Le Corbusier as a consultant and Niemeyer as lead architect).

The Ministry of Education and Health building itself consists of a fifteen-storey office tower with a lower unit below containing an amphitheatre and exhibition hall. The walls of the lower building are covered with specially designed blue and white ceramic tiles, and on the base of the west facade there is a mural designed by Candido Portinari.

In 1943 the New York Times declared the lower building, named the mes, “the most advanced architectural structure in the world”. In 1947, L’Architecture d’aujourd’hui devoted six pages to the mes in a special issue on new architecture in Brazil.

Ministry of Education and Health, Rio de Janeiro, Oscar Niemeyer

3. The Brazilian Palacio da Alvorada (Palace of the Dawn), 1957-1958

The Palacio da Alvorada is the official residence of the President of Brazil. The building is located on a peninsula at Paranoa Lake in Brasilia and is listed as a National Historic Heritage Site.

Within the palace grounds there is a chapel and a heliport, and at basement level there is a movie theater, games room, medical centre and the building’s administration. The ground floor houses the state rooms used by the presidency for official receptions.

The Brazilian Palacio da Alvorada (Palace of the Dawn), 1957-1958

Source: Eraldo Peres/AP

The Brazilian Palacio da Alvorada (Palace of the Dawn), 1957-1958

4. National Congress of Brazil, Brasilia, 1957-1964

Oscar Niemeyer designed the National Congress during the late 1950s and early 1960s while he served as chief architect for Brazil’s new capital city, Brasília.

The complex consists of a domed Senate building, a Parliament office tower at the centre, and a bowl-shaped Chamber of the Deputies. The building is among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, as part of Brasilia’s original urban buildings since 1987.

National Congress of Brazil, 1957-1964

Source: Wikimedia Commons

National Congress of Brazil, 1957-1964

5. The Cathedral of Brasilia, Brasilia, 1960

This building led to Oscar Niemeyer’s acceptance on the Pritzker Prize in 1988. The cathedral is a 70 metre wide hyperboloid structure, constructed from 16 concrete columns, weighing 90 tons each. It was the first monument to be built in the new city of Brasilia.

Four bronze sculptures, each 3 metres high guard the exterior of the church, while internally, hand-painted ceramic tiles cover the walls and blue stained glass windows line the ceiling.

6. Mondadori headquarters, Milan, 1974

The Mondadori publishing group headquarters is situated on the outskirts of Milan in the town of Segrate, near to the city’s Linate airport and the motorway to Verona. Niemeyer was commissioned after recommendations from the Foreign Ministry he designed in Brasilia.

Construction began in the autumn of 1970 and finished in 1974. The building consists of a series of tall asymmetrical arches, positioned by a lake of 20,000 metres.

Mondadori headquarters, Milan

Source: Mondadori

Mondadori headquarters, Milan

7. Niteroi museum of contemporary art, Brazil, 1996

The Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum is a 16-metre high saucer-shaped modernist structure. Designed with the assistance of structural engineer Bruno Contarini, the building sits on a Cliffside overlooking Guanabara Bay, opposite Rio de Janeiro. A wide access slope leads to a Hall of Expositions, which has a capacity for sixty people.

Niteroi museum of contemporary art, Brazil, 1996

Source: Adam Grebian

Niteroi museum of contemporary art

8. Oscar Niemeyer Museum, Curitiba, Brazil, 2002

Niemeyer completed this project in the state of Parana, in Brazil, at the age of 95 years. This museum is also known as Museu do Olho or Museum of the Eye, due to the design of the building. The Museum, dedicated to Niemeyer, focuses on the visual arts, architecture and design.

Part of the building was designed by Niemeyer in 1967 as an educational institute. It was remodelled and adapted to function as a museum, for which Niemeyer designed the eye-shaped tower.

Oscar Niemeyer Museum, Curitiba, Brazil, 2002

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Oscar Niemeyer Museum, Curitiba, Brazil, 2002

9. Teatro popular de Niteroi, Niteroi, Rio de Janeiro, 2007

This €5 million building was completed when Niemeyer turned the landmark age of 100. The Teatro consists of 1000 sqm of indoor space, with a 350 seat auditorium and a 17,000 sqm plaza. A glass wall looks over Guanabara Bay, while large panels of yellow tiles cover the sides of the structure. According to Niemeyer, the yellow facades and green walls are homage to Brazil’s flag.

Teatro popular de Niteroi, Niteroi, Rio de Janeiro, 2007

Source: Wikimedia commons

Teatro popular de Niteroi, Niteroi, Rio de Janeiro, 2007

10. Centro Niemeyer,  Avilés, Spain, 2011

Located in the medieval town of Avilés, located in Spain’s northern Asturias region, The Oscar Niemeyer International Cultural Centreor Centro Niemeyer is a three-storey, 50-foot concrete dome positioned on a monumental public square. The Centro features a museum, amphitheatre, restaurant and reception. Inside, Niemeyer designed a gargantuan four ton chandelier.

The museum’s exterior was created in just one day by pumping concrete into a PVC inflatable mould.

Centro Niemeyer, Aviles, Spain

Source: James Ewing

Centro Niemeyer, Aviles, Spain


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