Oscar Niemeyer | 10 Facts About The Brazilian Architect


Oscar Niemeyer is widely considered a key figure in the development of modern architecture. The Brazilian architect died on 5 December, 2012 just 10 days before his 105 birthday. Here are 10 facts about Oscar Niemeyer.


#1 He remarried shortly before he turned 99

Oscar Niemeyer in the 1950s
Oscar Niemeyer in the 1950s

Oscar Niemeyer was born on December 15, 1907 in the city of Rio de Janeiro. At the age of 21 he left school and soon after he wed Annita Baldo, with whom he remained married until her death in 2004 at the age of 93. In 2006 shortly before he was going to turn 99, Niemeyer married his long-time secretary Vera Lucia Cabreira.

#2 Niemeyer designed the famous Saint Francis of Assisi church

Niemeyer’s first major project which launched his career was the designing of a series of buildings in a new suburb of Rio de Janeiro named Pampulha. The man who assigned this project to him was Juscelino Kubitschek, his friend and the then mayor of Belo Horizonte. Completed in 1943, the buildings received international acclaim. Here Niemeyer started developing his own style which was defined by heavy use of concrete and sweeping curves. The masterpiece of the project was The Saint Francis of Assisi church. Due to its importance in the history of Brazilian and World architecture, it was the first listed modern building in Brazil.

Church of Saint Francis of Assisi
Church of Saint Francis of Assisi


The Edificio Copan designed by Niemeyer. Notice the curves he used in its designs

#3 Niemeyer is called a sculptor of monuments

The most notable thing in Niemeyer’s architecture is the use of abstract forms and curves. He once said, “I am not attracted to straight angles or to the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man. I am attracted to free-flowing, sensual curves – the 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.” Niemeyer is both lauded and criticized for being a “sculptor of monuments”.

#4 He worked with the legendary Swiss architect Le Corbusier

In 1947 Niemeyer was chosen to represent Brazil as part of the team to design the new headquarters of the United Nations in New York City. Here he worked with the legendary Swiss architect Le Corbusier who had once been his teacher. The final building combined elements from Niemeyer’s and Le Corbusier’s schemes.


#5 His designs in Brasilia have made it an icon of modern architecture

In 1956 Juscelino Kubitschek, who had now become the president of Brazil, told Niemeyer about his plan to build a new capital for Brazil and asked him to be the chief architect of public buildings in it. Brasilia was designed and constructed within four years. It became Brazil’s capital in 1960. The buildings designed by Niemeyer in Brasilia include the President’s Palace, Brasília Palace Hotel, Ministry of Justice building, presidential chapel and the cathedral. Niemeyer’s bold designs in Brasilia have made it an icon of modern architecture. A 1964 French movie titled The Man From Rio portrays Niemeyer and his contribution to the construction of Brasília.

Cathedral of Brasilia
Cathedral of Brasilia designed by Oscar Niemeyer


#6 He was forced to leave his country because he was a socialist

Fidel Castro in 1959
Fidel Castro in 1959

Oscar Niemeyer was a socialist and was involved with the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB). He was selected for the position of the dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design but his association with PCB prevented him from obtaining a visa. Because of his political views, Niemeyer had to leave his country in 1964 at the time of the military coup. During his exile Oscar opened an office in Paris. He returned to Brazil in 1985 after the end of the 21 year military dictatorship.

#7 Niemeyer was a close friend of Fidel Castro

Oscar Niemeyer was a close friend of Cuba’s revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro. Castro often visited his apartment and he once said, “Niemeyer and I are the last communists on this planet.”

#8 He was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize

In 1963, Niemeyer was awarded the Lenin Peace prize. In 1988, he was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the most prestigious award in architecture. In 2007 on Niemeyer’s 100th birthday, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin awarded him the Order of Friendship.


#9 He designed the Niterói Contemporary Art Museum

From 1992 to 1996, Niemeyer was the president of the Brazilian Communist Party. He was instrumental in reviving the party from its crisis. In 1996, at the age of 89, Niemeyer was responsible for the design of the Niterói Contemporary Art Museum.

Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum
Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum


#10 Niemeyer was an atheist

Niemeyer was an atheist throughout his life. His beliefs were based on the “injustices of this world” and on cosmological principles. Niemeyer’s views however never stopped him from designing religious buildings.

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