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The famous Brazilian architect

Oscar Niemeyer was born in the city of Rio de Janeiro in 1907 in Laranjeiras district. He was a typical young Carioca: bohemian and relatively unconcerned about his future.

Oscar Niemeyer started to work in his father´s typography house and entered the Fine Arts School, from which he graduated as engineer architect in 1934.

In 1945, when he already was an architect of some repute, he joined the Brazilian Communist Party, which he would preside in 1992. During the military dictatorship of Brazil his office was raided and Niemeyer was forced into exile in Europe. He visited the USSR, met with diverse socialist leaders and became a personal friend of some of them. Fidel Castro once said: "Niemeyer and I are the last Communists of this planet."

In 1939, Niemeyer assumed the leadership of the team of architects that would build the new headquarters for the Ministry of Education and Public Health in Rio de Janeiro responsible for the Ministry that had assumed the task of shaping the ?novo homem, Brazileiro e moderno´ (new man, Brazilian and modern). It was the first state-sponsored modernist skyscraper in the world: it employed local materials and techniques, like the tiles linked to Portuguese tradition; the revolutionised Corbusier brises-soleil, made adjustable and related to the Moorish shading devices of colonial architecture; bold colours; it also featured the tropical gardens of landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx, besides icons of Brazilian landscape; and specially commissioned works by Brazilian artists.

In 1939 Niemeyer and Lúcio Costa designed the Brazilian pavilion at the New York World´s Fair. Impressed by this, Mayor La Guardia awarded Niemeyer the keys of the city of New York. By mid-twentieth century, Brazilian architectural Modernism had been recognised as the ?first national style in modern architecture´.

The Pampulha project

In 1940, the Minas Gerais government started to develop a new suburb in Belo Horizonte called Pampulha, and commissioned Niemeyer to design a series of buildings known as the "Pampulha complex". It included Niemeyer´s famous Pampulha Church of São Francisco de Assis.

However it provoked controversy. The Church authorities of Minas Gerais refused to consecrate the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi until 1959, because of its unorthodox form and because of the altar mural painted by Candido Portinari.

Some of his works in Brazil include São Paulo´s Ibirapuera Park (for the celebrations of the city´s 400th anniversary) in 1951, the Copan apartment building (1953-66), and the JK Building in Belo Horizonte (1951). In 1952-53 he built his own house in Rio de Janeiro, the House at Canoas (Casa das Canoas), which is his domestic masterpiece and, in 1954-60, the Niemeyer luxury apartment building in Belo Horizonte.

Niemeyer was commissioned by president Kubitschek the lay-out of Brasília, the new capital of Brazil. Niemeyer designed the buildings and his friend Lucio Costa the plan of the city.

Niemeyer designed a large number of residential, commercial and government buildings which included: the residence of the President (Palácio da Alvorada), the House of the deputy, the National Congress of Brazil, the Cathedral of Brasília (a hyperboloid structure), diverse ministries and residential buildings. From above, the city can be seen to have elements that repeat themselves in every building providing formal unity.

Brasília was designed, constructed, and inaugurated in a four years span. After it, Niemeyer was nominated head chief of the college of architecture of the University of Brasília. In 1963, he became an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects in the United States and that same year, he was awarded the Soviet Lenin peace prize.


Due to its leftist position, Niemeyer suffered much during the military dictatorship. His office was attacked, the headquarters of his magazine were destroyed, his projects began to be refused and clients disappeared.

Along with other two hundred professors, Niemeyer resigned from the University of Brasília in 1965, in protest against the government treatment of universities.

In 1966, Niemeyer moved to Paris. In Paris he created the headquarters of the French Communist Party, Place du Colonel Fabien, and in Italy that headquarters of the Mondadori publishing company. Another design of the great Brazilian architect was the Penang State Mosque in George Town the state capital of Penang, Malaysia in 1970s.
Some of his later works include

  • Casino in Funchal, Madeira
  • The Niterói Contemporary Art Museum, Rio de Janeiro
  • Oscar Niemeyer Museum (NovoMuseu), Curitiba, Brazil
  • Brazilian National Museum, Brazilia, D.F.
  • Municipal Library, Duque de Caxias, RJ, Brazil
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    Oscar Niemeyer was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1988.

    He designed two more small buildings in Brasilia: the Memorial dos Povos Indigenas ("Memorial for the Indigenous People") and the Cathedral Militar, Church of de N.S. da Paz.

    When he was 89 years old, he created one of his greatest works: the Niterói Contemporary Art Museum. The building hangs from a rock, offering a beautiful view of the Guanabara Bay and the city of Rio de Janeiro.

    On 2004, Niemeyer, 96 years old at the time, designed the tombstone for Communist Carlos Marighella, in Salvador da Bahia.

    In 2006, Niemeyer (98) married his long-time aide Vera Lucia Cabreira (born in mid-1940s) at his apartment in Rio de Janeiro´s Ipanema district.

    The National Museum and the National Library inaugurations, which he had designed, coincided with Oscar Niemeyer 99th birthday. Both are located at the "Esplanada dos Ministérios", which form the Republic Cultural Complex, next to his Cathedral.

    On Niemeyer´s 100th birthday, he was awarded the Order of Friendship by Russia´s president Vladimir Putin.

    Some of Niemeyer works in Rio:

  • Ministry of Education and Health (now the Palace of Culture), (with Le Corbusier, Lucio Costa, Jorge Machado Moreira and Afonso Eduardo Reidy) at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1937 to 1943.
  • National Stadium, at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1941.
  • Samba Stadium (Sambodromo), at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1983.
  • The Niterói Contemporary Art Museum
  • Municipal Library, Duque de Caxias, RJ, Brazil
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