Niemeyer Soares Filho, Oscar (1907–)

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Niemeyer Soares Filho, Oscar (1907–)

Oscar Niemeyer Soares Filho is a Brazilian architect. Niemeyer was born on December 15, 1907, in Rio de Janeiro and attended the National School of Fine Arts there from 1930 to 1934. He began to work with Lucio Costa and Carlos Leão, leaders of the modern movement in Brazilian architecture, in 1934. From 1937 to 1943, he collaborated with and ultimately succeeded Costa as head of the design team for the Ministry of Education and Health building in Rio, which brought Niemeyer into contact with Le Corbusier, the Swiss-born French architect who consulted on the design. The raised peristyle design of the building infuses many of the characteristic Corbusian elements (rooftop garden, sun roof, and inverted roof) with Brazilian baroque expression.

In the late 1930s, Niemeyer once again worked with Costa. The Brazilian Pavilion for the 1939 New York World's Fair catapulted Costa, Niemeyer, and the whole Brazilian movement into the world spotlight. A fluid plan centers on an exotic garden layout, the work of the painter Roberto Burle Marx. In 1947, Niemeyer was asked to represent Brazil on a commission in the planning of the United Nations buildings in New York City. In the 1940s, the architect Walter Gropius named Niemeyer the "bird of paradise" of the architectural world.

Niemeyer's first major solo project was the plan for a group of buildings in Pampulha, a new suburb in Belo Horizonte, the capital of the state of Minas Gerais. The project was commissioned in 1941 by Juscelino Kubitschek de Oliveira (1902–1976), then mayor of Belo Horizonte and later president of Brazil (1956–1961). It incorporates the use of free forms, the interplay of light and shade, painting, and sculpture into the architectural formula. The complex includes the casino, which some have called Niemeyer's masterwork. It is a "narrative" building with ramps, elliptical corridors, promenades, and labyrinthine accessways to direct the flow, while colorful stones, glass, and textures paint the mood. The building has served as an art museum since the interdiction on gambling. The other buildings in the Niemeyer group are a circular restaurant with a sun roof, the yacht club with an inverted slope roof, and the São Francisco de Assis Chapel adorned with parabolic shells.

Niemeyer's 1955 design for the Museum of Modern Art in Caracas serves as an aesthetic watershed in his career. Borrowing design elements and forms, such as pyramidal shapes, reminiscent of neoclassicism, he distances himself somewhat from the informal functional focus of his earlier free-form designs. To the detriment of function and social need, this tendency is reiterated and extended further in the free-form modernism of the new capital city, Brasília, the plans for which were initiated following the election of Kubitschek to the presidency in 1956. Niemeyer served as chief architect for Novacap, the government building authority, between 1956 and 1961. Responsible for designing the public buildings, Niemeyer helped fulfill Lucio Costa's master plans for the new city. Between 1958 and 1961, he designed the president's residence of Alvorada Palace, the Supreme Court building, the Presidential Chapel, the Three Towers Square, the National Theater, a group of buildings for the University of Brasília, the Arches Palace, and the Ministry of Justice.

Niemeyer returned to private practice in 1961 and worked on civic, commercial, and governmental projects, on large and small scales. In the mid-1960s, he designed urban redevelopment plans for Grasse, France, the Algarve in Portugal, and Algiers. In 1966 he designed the French Communist Party headquarters in Paris. He returned to Brazil in 1968 to lecture at the University of Rio de Janeiro. While there, he designed Satetyles, a telecommunications complex in Rio, Cuiabá University in Mato Grosso, and the Ministry of Defense in Brasília. In the 1970s and 1980s, he designed the Hotel Nacional in Rio, the cathedral in Brasília, numerous office buildings in Brazil and in France, the Anthropological Museum in Belo Horizonte, a zoo in Algiers, a samba stadium, sixty schools in the state of Rio de Janeiro, and a project for a convention center in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

Niemeyer has always lived in Rio de Janeiro, except for international commissions that take him abroad. Niemeyer resides in an apartment overlooking Copacabana. The house he designed in São Conrado, a suburb of Rio, has been named a city landmark. There are plans to redesign it as a museum for his work. He also designed a theater in São Paulo, an annex to the Supreme Court in Brasília, and a theater complex for the state of São Paulo.

Beyond his architectural planning and teaching, Niemeyer was the founder of the magazine Modulo in the 1950s. He has also received many international awards. They include the Lenin Peace Prize in 1963, the Benito Juárez Award for the Mexican Revolution Centennial in 1964, the Medal of the Polish Architectural Association in 1967, a gold medal from the American Institute of Architects in 1970, and a gold medal from the Parisian Académie d'Architecture in 1982. In 1988 he split the Pritzker Architecture Prize with Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill.

His membership affiliations include honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Legion of Honor officer, commander of the Ordre des Arts et Lettres, honorary member of the Academy of Arts of the USSR, member of the European Academy of Arts, Sciences, and Humanities, and member of the Comitate Internazionale dei Garanti.

As of 2007, at the age of ninety-nine Niemeyer was still actively designing sculptures and making adjustments on his existing older works, many of them protected by historic heritage regulations from modifications by anyone other than himself.

See alsoArchitecture: Modern Architecture; Burle Marx, Roberto; Costa, Lúcio.


Oscar Niemeyer, Minha experiencia em Brasília (1961).

Rupert Spade, Oscar Niemeyer (1971).

Oscar Niemeyer, A forma na arquitetura (1977).

Alan Hess, "Perspectives: Back to Brasília," in Progressive Architecture 72 (October 1991): 97-98; "Interview with Oscar Niemeyer," in Progressive Architecture 72 (October 1991): 98-99.

David Underwood, Oscar Niemeyer and Brazilian Free-form Modernism (1994).

Additional Bibliography

Graça, Eduardo. "The Last of the Modernists." Metropolis Magazine (May 2006).

Hess, Alan. Oscar Niemeyer Houses. Photographs by Alan Weintraub. New York: Rizzoli, 2006.

Niemeyer, Oscar. The Curves of Time: The Memoirs of Oscar Niemeyer. London: Phaidon, 2000.

                                Caren A. Meghreblian