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Modernist Movement: Oscar Niemeyer
by Cêça de Guimaraens

Oscar Niemeyer was born in Brazil in 1907. Considered to be the most important Brazilian architect of the twentieth century because of the quantity and quality of his buildings, he began his career in the office of Lucio Costa in 1934 after graduating from the National School of Fine Art.

From the time he replaced Costa in the group that worked on Le Corbusier's design for the headquarters building for the Ministry of Education and Health in Rio, Niemeyer played the leading role in the modernist current that encouraged plastic expression. In 1947, the headquarters building of the United Nations organization in the United States once again gave Niemeyer the chance to share a definitive project with Le Corbusier, based on the independent proposals of each of them.

The corbusian influence is evident in the early works of Niemeyer. However, the architect gradually acquired his own style: the lightness of the curved forms created spaces that transformed the architectural scheme into something that was hitherto unknown; harmony, grace and elegance are the adjectives that are most appropriate to describe the work of Oscar Niemeyer. The adaptations produced by the architect to connect the baroque vocabulary with modernist architecture made possible formal experiences in spectacular volumes, executed by famous mathematicians including the Brazilian Joaquim Cardoso and the Italian Pier Luigi Nervi.

The architecture of Brasília, glimpsed in the sketches submitted by Lucio Costa for the international design contest for the new capital of Brazil, was the result of Niemeyer's definitive impetus on the scene of the international history of contemporary architecture. The concave and convex domes of the National Congress and the columns of the Alvorada and Planalto palaces and the Supreme Court are highly original features. Combining these with the spectacular forms of the columns of the Cathedral and the palaces of Itamaraty and Justiça, Niemeyer succeeded in closing the rectangular and symmetrical perspective formed by the repetition of the Esplanada and Ministry buildings.

The use of reinforced concrete to form curves or as a shell and the unique use of the aesthetic possibilities of the straight line were translated into factories, skyscrapers, exhibition centres, residential areas, theatres, temples, head office buildings for public and private sector companies, universities, clubs, hospitals and buildings for various social schemes. Of these, the following are worthy of special mention: the Obra do Berço and residence on the Estrada das Canoas in Rio de Janeiro; The Duchen factory, the Copan building and Ibirapuera Park in São Paulo; the Pampulha architectural complex including a casino, restaurant and the Temple of St. Francis of Assisi, in Belo Horizonte; the design for the Hotel de Ouro Preto in Minas Gerais, the Caracas Museum in Venezuela, the headquarters building of the Communist Party in Paris, the head office of Editora Mondatori in Milan, the Constantine University in Algeria and the Niterói Museum of Contemporary Art, Rio de Janeiro.

The constant presence of Oscar Niemeyer on the scene of international contemporary architecture from 1936 until the present time, has transformed him into a symbol of Brazil. He has received numerous prizes and is the owner of a vast library containing books written by him and also by Stamo Papadaki, as well as editions of early editions of magazines on French and Italian architecture.

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