Oscar Niemeyer 1907-2012

 © 2007 Peter Marshall

Oscar Ribeiro de Almeida de Niemeyer Soares, architect of Brasilia and much more, died on Wednesday in a hospital in Rio de Janeiro, the city in which he was born in 1907, shortly before his 105 birthday, and his obituaries appear in today’s papers. Some of them are being published for a second time, as a disturbing Internet hoax published news of his death a month or so ago, a rumour that spread rapidly around the world before being scotched.

© 2007, Peter Marshall

I never met Niemeyer, but did have the experience of spending a couple of days in Brasilia days after his 100th birthday. Brasilia was his major monument, and I was shown around the city – the only entirely modern city to become  a Unesco World Heritage site and a collaboration between him as architect and urban planner Lúcio Costa (1902-98.)

I wasn’t in Brasilia to take photographs, but to show my own work in the  Foto Arte 2007 festival there, and I deliberately hadn’t taken my full photographic kit, just a small compact camera, something I rather regretted later, although it was still probably the best thing to do given the packed schedule of my stay.

Of course I wrote a series of posts about my visit and the festival, and you can see them here on >Re:PHOTO, starting perhaps with Foto Arte 2007 Brasilia. As well as writing about some of my experiences and the shows I saw in the festival there is also a series of posts which reproduce much of the lecture I gave at the festival which starts with  Architecture and Urban Landscape photography, and continues in Garden Suburbs and Garden Cities and Under the Car.

© 2007, Peter Marshall
Three major buildings by Niemeyer in the centre of Brasilia

© 2007, Peter Marshall
The Brazilian parliament buildings, remarkably open to the public

I visited all the major buildings by Niemeyer in the city, although it wasn’t possible to get very close to the presidential palace and I viewed it only across it’s moat and vast stretch of very green grass, watched by the soldiers on guard, and also went around several of the Super Quadras – the autonomous neighbourhood units which were the building blocks of Costa’s plan and some of the commercial areas. But perhaps the building by Niemeyer that made the strongest impression on me for it’s simplicity and functionality was his small church, the Igrejinha Nossa Senhora de Fátima.

© 2007, Peter Marshall

Niemeyer was the last remaining great architect of the modernist era, giving his own particular flavour to it with his love of curves, curves derived from his love of women and of nature, of rivers and mountains.  It is perhaps surprising that some of his best-known and best loved buildings were churches and cathedrals, as he, like the other main figures in the development of Brasilia, was a communist since the 1940s – and had to flee Brazil after a right-wing coup in the 1960s, living for a while in Paris where he designed the headquarters building of the French Communist Party.

One of perhaps the stranger sites on the tourist map in Brasilia is at the highest point looking down on the rest of the city, where the first Mass in Brasilia was held,  attended by Costa and Niemeyer who were both atheists. You can see a not very good picture of the site, along with more of my images from Brasilia starting here on My London Diary.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated are by Peter Marshall and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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