Oscar Niemeyer Soares Filho

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Oscar Niemeyer Soares Filho

The Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer Soares Filho (born 1907) was the leading exponent of the International Style in Latin America. He is especially identified with the public buildings of Brasilia, Brazil's new capital.

Oscar Niemeyer Soares Filho was born on Dec. 15, 1907, in Rio de Janeiro, the son of a well-to-do family. He attended the National School of Fine Arts (1930-1934), and for many years he regarded his work more as a sport than a profession. Both his brilliance and his much decried haste can be attributed to this attitude, although after the mid-1950s he began to take himself and his work more seriously.

In 1936 Niemeyer began work with a team of young Brazilians on a project directed by Le Corbusier, the Swiss architect, to design a building to house the Ministry of Education (executed 1937-1942). They experimented with several bold ideas, erecting part of the structure on pillars that straddle a gardened walkway, covering it in decorative tile, and facing one entire wall of the skyscraper with independently movable concrete shades or blinds (brise-soleils). From Le Corbusier, Niemeyer and his colleagues also learned the flexibility of reinforced concrete, a quality that made a virtue out of Brazil's steel-short economy.

Before this project was completed, Niemeyer was named chief designer for a group of buildings at Pampulha, a residential suburb near Belo Horizonte. He designed a casino, restaurant, yacht club, and, most important, the church of S. Francisco (executed 1942-1943). The church is a series of concrete parabolic curves, and two of the walls are downward extensions of the roof. He also designed the Brazilian Pavilion at the New York World's Fair of 1939 and participated in the planning of the United Nations headquarters in New York, beginning in 1947.

Although a prolific designer of private homes, business offices, and recreational facilities, Niemeyer is best known for the public buildings in Brasilia that he designed after 1956. There he found room in which to exercise his powerful imagination, keen sense of proportion, and plastic sensibility. The Palácio da Alvorada (official presidential residence) has a simple grandeur. Tiny white supports suggest that the building floats lightly beyond a reflecting pool from which the eye glides smoothly toward the upward curves that frame the glass walls of the main foyer. Other major achievements in Brasilia are the Congress complex, the Palace of the Dawn, and the flowerlike Cathedral (still being constructed in 1971), which reveal a sculptured quality only reinforced concrete could lend them. On the other hand, his massive apartment buildings are monotonous and monolithic, besides being poorly designed from both an engineering and a social standpoint.

Further Reading

Two works by Stamo Papadaki describe and evaluate the work of the Brazilian architect: Oscar Niemeyer: Works in Progress (1956) and Oscar Niemeyer (1960). □