Renowned Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer died at the age of 104, just ten days short of his 105th birthday, from a cardiorespiratory arrest in a Rio de Janeiro hospital on Wednesday, December 5.
During his 80 years or so of designing buildings, Niemeyer famously participated in the modernisation of Brasilia where he was the chief architect appointed to give Brazil a new modern capital set in a more central location than the pre-existing seat of government Rio de Janeiro. He also collaborated with his friend and mentor, the French-Swiss architect Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris, better known by his pseudonym Le Corbusier
, to design the United Nations building in New York. Another of Niemeyer’s most striking designs was the contemporary art museum at Niteroi, near Rio de Janeiro, consisting of an upturned dish shape perched on rocky cliffs above the ocean.
At the age of 80, in 1988 Niemeyer was awarded the Pritzker Prize
, regarded as the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for architecture, for the design of the cathedral in Brasilia. During an architectural career spanning eight decades, Niemeyer created an estimated 400 or so buildings, spanning many continents, including the Penang State Mosque in Malaysia, the Serpentine Pavilion in London and the headquarters of the French Communist Party in Paris, reports The Times of India
. Remarkably, many of Niemeyer's striking buildings he visualised and designed with nothing more than pencil and paper in an era when computer aided design was the stuff of science fiction.
Niemeyer made no secret of his communist sympathies and when a military junta took control in Brazil in the 1960s, Niemeyer fled to France and remained based in Paris for many years before returning to his native Brazil. Amongst his friends, he counted Cuban leader Fidel Castro and whilst exiled in Paris he got to know Pablo Picasso and Jean-Paul Sartre.
According to the LA Times
, Niemeyer lived in protest at the right angle "and buildings designed with the ruler and the square." One of the trademark features of his designs, was Niemeyer’s liking for the curve, an inspiration he drew from Einstein’s universe, the crescent of the Copacabana beach he would look out on every day and, he admitted, the shapeliness of some of the women he observed on that same beach.
Speaking to the Washington Post in 2002 Niemeyer said, "Curves are the essence of my work because they are the essence of Brazil, pure and simple. I am a Brazilian before I am an architect. I cannot separate the two."
His admiration of curvaceous women on the beach contrasted with his personal life. Oscar Niemeyer married his sweetheart Annita Baldo in 1928. They were married for 76 years until her death in 2004 at the age of 93. In 2006, shortly before his 99th birthday, Niemeyer married his long-time secretary, Vera Lucia Cabreira. At the time of his death, Niemeyer was still mourning the death of his only daughter Ana Maria Niemeyer, who died on June 6, 2012, aged 82.