Oscar Niemeyer revolutionized architecture and aesthetics of the 20th century with his designs full of humanity and challenge. A poet of curves, he celebrates life, work and vitality with his timeless sensual lines.
He gave his fantasies wings, turning concrete (cement) to sculpture and has been constructing the most incredible buildings over the world. In the late 1950’s he created Brasilia with his friend Lucio Costa, raising a utopia of a capital from a wild jungle plain.
Today in 2007 the master is still working and looking forward to more. Recently invited to create another new capital, this time in Angola, he is also currently designing a tower in China and building his Niemeyer Way in Niteroi. He is still, as ever, in love with the feminine figure, which has inspired him all his life. Last year he married again, this time with his longstanding right hand Vera Niemeyer. He lives every day with hope for the human being and admiration of the universe around him.
In this interview, Niemeyer talks about the beginning the middle and the future. Like the infinity of curves, his vision sees no end. Architecture, life and modernism all come together in his recent documentary Life is a Breath.
Oscar Niemeyer interviewed in 2007 by Danniel Rangel at the occasion of his upcoming centenary birthday
Danniel Rangel: You are one of the treasures of our country and the world. When we talk about Brazilian architecture and modernism it is impossible not to mention your name. When you started your career as an architect did you think that your vision would reach this far across the globe?Oscar Niemeyer: I recognize that I had a lot of luck and a lot of people who stimulated my work during my journey as an architect. Working on the Pampulha project (which happened thanks to the minister Gustavo Capanema, who was responsible for the affairs of arts and architecture in the country) I became very close to Juscelino Kubischek who later became the president of Brazil. It was him who asked me to design the complex of Pampulha, with casino and all. In our first meeting, he asked me to have the project for the next day!
So I spent all night designing, and the project quickly took on a new shape, a new architecture, lighter, full of curves in the search of the beauty … The Pampulha was a big success and opened lots of doors to me, more than I expected, and of course I took advantage of this. I was then invited to do the Brasilia project with the same feeling.
[ON] In my exile in France during the dictatorship I tried to show to the world not just my architecture, but also the Brazilian way to construct. Our engineers were often superior to those of other countries and we managed to work the technical aspects of shaped concrete so well! It was abroad that I created a lot of projects I am very fond of, and today people still talk about them when they visit, like the headquarters of the communist party in France and the university of Constantine in Algeria, the Mondadori publishing house in Milan. The work continues and my enthusiasm for architecture is still very strong, although — LIFE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN ARCHITECTURE!
DR: There is a fluid, sculptural aspect to your work, different to the hard angles of Le Corbusier, Johnson and Mies van der Rohe. What is your inspiration?
ON: André Marlaux once told me that he had a “museum imaginarium” inside of him, and that he kept in his mind everything that he loved and admired in his life. I have also my museum imaginarium, maybe it is where all my inspiration comes from.
DR: Close to a complete 100 years, working, producing new projects and facing the future, how do you feel ?
ON: I feel very good, and in peace with myself. Architecture today can take a lot of advantage of the offerings of concrete (cement) to form new shapes. I think one must not take my life or work as a model; each architect should have his own ideas and architecture, free, with his/her own creative intuition, creating surprises - and at the same time trying to make our world a better place to live with more dignity and more solidarity.
DR: You are still working with concrete and all its possibilities. How do you feel about the architects today using new technology, like Frank Gehry who creates some of the structures of his buildings on the computer?
ON: I never criticize any of my colleagues. Of course we have a lot of motivation to praise the work of this architect. For contemporary architecture - or post modernism, like some people call it, I can confess that I don’t like the attitude of certain architects who show off expensive materials in an extremely sophisticated way.
I still work with concrete, but I keep my eyes open to the new materials and the evolution of architecture, the social and technical progress in the search for the architectural spectacle that is great to the eyes of the public (with not so much show off - of course).
DR: In your film Life is a Breath you describe the human condition and our reality with this title phrase. Tell me why.
ON: Life is a minute. Everything goes, disappears… the human being is fragile, but lives a big drama of “enormous grandness.” Man is small and fragile in front of the fantastic universe that is at the same time humbling and fascinating.
For this reason we have to assume a position in life with more modesty and recognize that everything is transitory and ephemeral: make more sense for our lives and fight for a society with more justice. Solidarity in this context needs to be cultivated and disseminated. Dostoyevski, one of my favourite writers, recognized this and made us to see that worse than death is the fear of death.
Life is a breath, but with more compassion and love we can make life more pleasant and beautiful to live.
Photos: Florio Puenter