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Mariano González Presencio, Professor of the School of Architecture , University of Navarra

On the death of Oscar Niemeyer

Mon, 10 Dec 2012 09:04:21 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

Oscar Ribeiro de Almeida de Niemeyer Soares, Oscar Niemeyer, has passed away, just ten days before reaching the extraordinary figure of one hundred and five years of age. With him disappears the last of the giants of modern architecture, an undoubted master whose extraordinary longevity seemed to have given him immortality in life.

He was born in 1907 in Rio de Janeiro and his biography transcends that of a brilliant architect to become that of a legendary personality capable of embodying the spirit of an entire country. Indeed, it is very difficult to understand the complexity of the young Brazilian republic without the figure of Niemeyer. The sensuality of his architecture, his presence in the most relevant episodes of state building, his tenacious communist militancy and even his reputation as an eternal seducer made him a distillate of what Brazil means to the world.

His early career is inevitably linked to the figure of the architect and urban planner Lucio Costa and to that of the politician Juscelino Kubischek. The former admitted him as a young man partner right after finishing his programs of study and the then mayor of Belo Horizonte gave him his first opportunity when he commissioned him - with Costa's approval - the project of a church and a casino on the shores of Pampulha Lake. In the construction of this neighborhood on the outskirts of the new capital of Minas Gerais, not only the young architect and the promising politician would be present quotation , but also other indispensable figures of Brazilian modernity such as the painter Candido Portinari, the sculptor Alfredo Ceschiatti or the architect and landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx..

Costa and Kubischek - JK as he was then popularly known - would also be present again in what would be the work that, above all, would make him known throughout the world and turn him into a true symbol of Brazil, the construction of the new capital of Brasilia. Designed in the sixties by Lucio Costa, with JK already as federal president, Brasilia is a turning point not only for the country but for modernity itself for its realization of the modern urban utopia. And in it, especially in its administrative heart, the place of the Three Powers, Niemeyer's brilliant architecture will write one of the most beautiful pages of contemporary monumentality.

The arrival of the dictatorship in 1964 meant a new stage in the professional life of the Brazilian architect; his forced exile meant that his work, from his office in the Parisian Champs Elysées, reached an international dimension. With the fall of the dictatorship in the 1980s, Niemeyer would return to Brazil, having become an international star and a symbol, and would begin an even more fruitful third professional stage with essential works such as the impressive Museum of Contemporary Art of Niteroi (1996).

His greatest work in Europe, probably his last major work, would be carried out precisely in Spain, in Avilés, a complex known as the Oscar Niemeyer International Cultural Center; a design given by the architect to the Prince of Asturias Foundation, which had awarded him the prestigious award in 1989, on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the institution of the awards. The vicissitudes of management that the Niemeyer Center has gone through recently and the fact that it has become an unfortunate symbol of a period of institutional squandering, or even the reality that Niemeyer's project did not end up being as original as we would have wished, cannot prevent that there in Avilés, almost as in Brazil, the sensuality of its virtuous architecture envelops the visitor and allows him to feel the magic of this "poet of the curve" or "sculptor of spaces" as Vinicius de Morais called him in the song he composed for him.