Niemeyer. 1907-2012

In this blog entry our Design Principal Mar reminisces on the impact and importance of Oscar Niemeyer, an architectural great, who recently past.


A few days ago we lost Oscar Niemeyer, the Brazilian architect renowned for -among other things- his amazing, groundbreaking work creating a monumental identity for the buildings of his country's capital city, Brasilia. In association with urban planner Lucio Costa, he was co-responsible for one of the most complex and daring urban enterprises in the human history, comparable only to the construction of the city of Saint Petersburg in the 19th Century. The building of a modern capital from scratch in the middle of the rainforest, in the context of an underdeveloped country was, under any parameters, a risky undertaking. However, the results of this experiment, beyond its obvious limitations, were not only a success but served as an inspirational source for any number of modern, large-scale architectural projects in the world.

I must confess: until a couple of years ago, I even ignored Niemeyer was still alive, until I heard of a project he was working on to build a large complex named City of the Music in the harbour of Rosario (an Argentine city about 200 miles to the north of Buenos Aires). It was a rather ambitious project. As well, it wasn't the only one: several other ones from London to Curitiba to Spain were developed or planned in the last few years. Unbelievable Niemeyer was quite active even beyond his 100th birthday.

He was, in some aspects, the last of his kind. The 20th Century was a great time for architects that were also artists in their own right; men and women capable of introducing a radical shift in our notion of spaces for living and spaces for recreation, spaces of contemplation and even spaces of worship. Also, men that embraced very openly a modern way to explore the new languages that the recently discovered possibilities in terms of engineering and materials would bring to their art. Le Corbusier, Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, the people behind the Bauhaus, are only a few highlights of a list that includes many others.

Modern architecture was maybe one of the most influential beacons for the design industry of the last few decades, and much of the current design philosophy that stands for function, simplification of the forms and a honest approach to what a user expects from a certain object, a graphic piece or even a visual interface, owes a lot to the work of people like Niemeyer. Websites have in their own right spatiality, albeit virtual.

The memory of Niemeyer, serves as a reminder that we are standing on the shoulders of giants that once dared to build a bird in the middle of the jungle.