|1907||Born on 15 Dec. in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil|
|1934||Graduated from Architecture Dept. of National Art College in Rio de Janeiro|
|1935||Joined the office of Lucio Costa & Carlos Leon|
|1936||Met Le Corbusier in the project of Education and Health Ministry of Brazil|
|1940-42||Met Mayor of Belo Horizonte, Juscelino Kubitscheck Oliveira, who became later President of Brazil, and designed Pampulha complex buildings for him|
|1945-90||Joined the Communist Party|
|1952||Designed together with Le Corbusier UN Headquarters in New York|
|1956||Appointed a chief designer together with Costa for the new capital Brasilia|
|1957-60||Designed the major buildings in Brasilia|
|1964||Questioned by the special police at the outbreak of a military coup|
|1965||Moved to Paris
Exhibition at the Louvre
|1970||Cathedral in Brasilia|
|1975||Mondari Publishing House Headquarters in Milan, Italy|
|1983||Exhibition at the Museum of Modern Arts in Rio de Janeiro|
Awarded Pritzker Prize
Memorial to Latin America in Saõ Paulo
|1996||Niteroi Museum of Contemporary Art in Niteroi|
|2002||Oscar Niemeyer Museum in Curitiba|
|2012||Died December 5 in Rio de Janeiro|
1Architecture Forum on Oscar Niemeyer
Kajima KI Building in Akasaka, Tokyo. October 22, 16:00-17:40.
Below is the summary:
Oscar Niemeyer, the Architect of Two CenturiesBy José Carlos Sussekind Oscar Niemeyer’s associate structural engineer
The Panteon’s dome in Rome, its juxtaposed blocks in stone masonry built up about 2000 years ago and the free spans of the Doge’s Palace main state rooms in Venice, supported by wooden trusses, completed at the eve of Renaissance, both erected in times when there was no mathematical or physical basis for structural calculations, are two major examples of the use of materials and consequent evolution on construction techniques in order to allow architectural creation and conquering-spans dreams to become true.
Recalling the architecture, worldwide, of last century first decades, strongly influenced by Bauhaus school, we can realize its relative mediocrity, its non-declared policy of hiding the structures almost completely, behind walls or coatings, as if they were a kind of a necessary evil, something necessarily ugly (and they really were...) inside the buildings that, in reprisal, became monotonous successions and repetitions of towed, painted boxes.
It was in that moment that Oscar Niemeyer appeared, breaking up with the dictatorial rules of the functionalism, introducing, as an innovation, as a goal in itself, the beauty and harmony of curves and asymmetric forms, bringing together a growing valorization to engineering solutions, the architectural creation working towards the total exhibition of the structures, taking advantage of its properties and proportions, harmonizing it in the whole. It was a revolution, indeed.
One can see, since his beginning, in 1940 Pampulha project, that this was reached: the cylindrical shells covering the church and the thin marquees whose projections followed the curved edge of the lake, were highlighted, thus becoming key- elements to assure beauty and equilibrium to the complex.
Shapes, lightness, thin, daring, apparent concrete structures: of these issues, Niemeyer would nevermore retreat in his almost 70 years career, in his more than 500 different projects ( one of them is the Capital of Brazil) already built.
|from left: José Carlos Sussekind, Maki Fumihiko, Miyake Riichi||Cathedral, Brasilia, 1970||Niemeyer Residence on Canoas Street, Rio de Janeiro, 1953|
|Oscar Niemeyer Museum, Curitiba, 2002||Memorial to Latin America - Library, Saõ Paulo, 1988|
|Niteroi Museum of Contemporary Art, Niteroi, 1996||At his office|
Who would be able, a little more than a decade after Pampulha, while contemplating Brasilia’s Cathedral, to separate what is architecture and what is its supporting structure, in that true synthesis-project of 20th century modern architecture? Or the same, in relation to Niteroi’s Cathedral, conceived at the very beginning of the 21st century?
About one month ago, Oscar and a small group of friends, including myself, in our regular Tuesday’s night classes of philosophy were hearing about how different philosophers defined beauty. Oscar stood quietly, his eyes looking far away. And suddenly, gently, humbly, he made his statement: "I think there is real art when, and only when, 2 things are brought together: emotion and surprise". What a definition and how coherent it is with everything he did and does throughout his life! He likes to repeat: "When you visit one of my projects, you may like or dislike it , but never can tell you’ve seen an equal one before". That’s the surprise-issue, so important to Niemeyer as to Baudelaire, and so strangely unallowed in Classic Greece.
In spite of those who have had the tendency, on pretext of minimizing costs, of condemning everything that was new, audacious, everything that fled to the traditional canons, a step after the other it became no more a heresy to accept very thin slabs (1950- covering the famous architect’s house at Canoas, Rio), intensely reinforced columns ( 1958- facades of Presidential Palaces and Supreme Court in Brasilia), suspended buildings, having its main structures in the top ( 1968, Mondadori Palace at Milan, till 2004, outstanding Governor’s Building, recently conceived to the state of Minas Gerais), huge cantilevers and spans ( 1969, University of Constantine, Algeria, till 2004, Governor’s Building), in attendance to higher demands of beauty, surprise, functionality or plastic character.
The development of Niemeyer’s work is always and absolutely linked to the progress of reinforced and pre-stressed concrete technology. No other material would give him so much freedom in the instant of creation. Freedom that makes his creation unique, new, expression of our times, nothing having in common with old solutions of classic or neoclassic inspiration, dropped by the concrete, which has allowed everything and has changed everything. The material that brought a positive breakthrough into the architectural creation.
It is because we have tried to take good advantage on the potentiality of concrete, facing the limit- situations that Niemeyer’s creation in many cases imposed and still imposes, that we got some international respect, as a country, in the design and construction of structures. It is a historical example and landmark for us, particularly to myself, aged 22 at that time, the one of Constantine University, considered as structurally and constructively impossible by some European experts at the end of the 60’s and, notwithstanding, designed and erected without major difficulties by Brazilian engineers and contractors.
The exclusive international market for construction was, thus, opened at that time to our country not because of any government efforts, not because of any commercial efforts from our contractors but only because our major architect decided not to follow requests of european experts and, supported by algerian President, confirmed his project and brought his country fellows to build it. For me, it was the beginning of the most fascinating and unique mix of professional and personal relationship, linking myself to Oscar who, soon, became a mix of elder ( sometimes I think younger...) brother and deputy-father. And a few years later, about 30 years ago, I became his main structural-associate engineer.
Niemeyer’s artistic personality is clearly noticed along the common work with the structural engineer, during the early creative process: Oscar shows his first sketches, explains what is important, in that case, in terms of spans, shapes and free volumes. The chat continues in the search of the best structural configuration, followed by my preliminary ( which always has to become final...) determination of the basic dimensions. The very fascinating to testify is that, rarely these chats do last more than 20 minutes, even in very big projects and -still- in the great majority of the cases, the proportions drawn as attempts in Oscar’s first sketches prove themselves, at the end, to be those technically more feasible and advisable. An instinctive, artistic, uncommon sense of what the structure will need.
Oscar works very, very, quickly. He sketched Pampulha in one night; that was the schedule imposed by Mayor Kubitscheck. As a reward, a friend for all life, who charged him of all buildings of the new Capital, once he became President of Brazil, 15 years after. National Theater in Brasilia was conceived in a weekend. Algiers Mosque came, "ready", to his mind when he was going to bed; he returned to the table and registered it in 5 minutes. Niteroi Art Museum, considered by some publications "one of the 7 marvels of modern times", was drawn in a napkin at a small bar, the other side of the site, while he waited for the fish he had ordered.
In the scarce occasions in which, due to structural constraints, some adjustment- or even radical change - in his initial architectural conception is necessary, it is fascinating to testify the richness of alternatives that, quickly, Oscar presents to me. Even the most complex projects in which I collaborated with didn’t require more than four or five sessions of chats, until we reached the final solution. The Latin America Memorial, for example, including the largest free concrete- beam span in the world, was defined in one Saturday morning. The interaction, in all cases, reveals in Oscar Niemeyer a limpid process, absent of doubts or sufferings, in his obviously pleasurable act of creation.
Oscar will be 97 years old next December. His health is blessed. As if the gods themselves took the charge of protecting such an artistic genius, such a humanist. His mind is the same of someone of my age. He works 7 days a week; we have more than 10 different projects, in different regions, now under development and construction. The National Museum and the National Library in Brasilia, the Government Buildings in Minas Gerais, the Sea Museum -suspended over the sea- in Ceara, the Niemeyer Way in Niteroi, Itaipu headquarters, a Monument to Peace in Paris, a New University in Brasilia, Bolshoi School of Ballet in South Brazil and , probably, a new one I will be told when arriving back in Brazil.
There is nothing similar in all times. Perhaps Picasso produced as much as Oscar; but not till such age and not dealing in an activity with so many technical interfaces. Oscar is a lesson of live. He , who probably built more than any other architect, has kept no money to himself. And is particularly proud of it. He shares everything he earns with his family, his friends, with someone that needs and asks him for help or causes he welcomes. He works each day to earn his living. He is still a major activist, an enemy of prejudice, violence and war.
He is, undoubtedly, a living myth. One of the soles. I’m sure he fully deserved the honor of the Praemium Imperiale , granted by The Japan Art Association. Honor that pleased and touched so much a man of his simplicity. Honor once more I thank on his behalf and in name of all Brazilian country fellows.