one of the most remarkable aspects of the modernist movement in architecture
was the idea that buildings should pretty much look the same
wherever on earth they happen to be.
The key early figures of Modernism
were united in their opposition to any kind of regional architecture,
which they saw as reactionary, folkloric and mediocre.
The Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer began his career
as an orthodox modernist.
He was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1907
and developed a passion for architecture in his early teens.
As a young man, he fell in with a group
that venerated the great European Modernist architects,
especially Le Corbusier,
who had insisted on making sure buildings made no concession whatsoever
to the culture in which they happened to be located.
Niemeyer’s professional dreams were realised when, in 1936,
Le Corbusier came to Rio to design the new Ministry of Education and Health
and Niemeyer got a job on the project.
While working with him
Niemeyer retained the utmost respect for Le Corbusier,
but at the same time, he couldn’t help but observe
how blind his guest was to the particularities of Brazilian culture and climate.
With what would become his legendary charm, Niemeyer managed to persuade Le Corbusier
to abandon some of his more hard-edged ‘universalist’ ideas,
and to start to make some concessions to local conditions.
Under Niemeyer’s influence, the building’s windows acquired shades against the sun,
and even an enormous traditional Portuguese piece of tile work
done up with beautiful abstract motifs, for the public areas on the ground floor.
Emboldened by his success,
Niemeyer felt ready to break free from European Modernism.
He is now celebrated for being the first modernist architect
anywhere in the world to practice a regional kind of Modernism,
in his case, a Brazilian-infused modernism.
His first wholly original work was completed in 1943, when he was 36,
the church of Saint Francis of Assisi in Belo Horizonte.
The church had no straight lines on any plane,
for Niemeyer now judged these to be European
and in many ways authoritarian.
Niemeyer was henceforth to include curves in all his buildings,
and saw these in a nationalistic light
as being particularly Brazilian in nature.
He remarked “What attracts me is the free and sensual curve,
the curve that I find in the mountains of my country,
in the sinuous course of its rivers
and in the bodies of beautiful Brazilian women.”
The latter point about women is telling
Niemeyer was deeply responsive to female beauty throughout his life.
He was famous around Rio for his affairs
many with people dramatically younger than he was.
At 92, he acquired a girlfriend who had just turned 25.
As in the Ministry of Health, the Pampulha Church had tiles across it.
They reminded the viewers that Brazil could be both modern
and yet recall its heritage,
that a church might nod towards the forms of a futuristic airplane hanger,
and yet could at the same time accommodate a depiction of Saint Francis.
Niemeyer’s most audacious attempt to define Brazilian identity
came with his designs for the new capital, Brasília.
In 1956, President Kubitschek of Brazil asked Niemeyer to help
create a wholly planned city in the centre of the country
free from the corruption of the old capital in Rio.
Niemeyer drew up the National Congress, a cathedral, a cultural complex
尼迈耶起草了国民大会 大教堂 文化中心
many ministries and commercial and residential buildings.
The atmosphere was dignified, hopeful, and in touch with the native environment.
Apartment buildings were often lifted on stilts to allow vegetation to grow beneath them,
maintaining a connection with the local ecology and tropical climate.
Of course, Niemeyer’s works depicted Brazil not as it was,
but as he believed and hoped it might one day be.
Brasilia imagines the Brazil of the future.
It is a glass and reinforced concrete ideal for the country to develop towards.
In the future, so the capitol argues
Brazil will be a place where rationality is powerful,
where order and harmony reign,
where elegance and serenity are normal.
Niemeyer was prolific until his very last years,
teaching around the world, writing and designing sculptures and furniture.
他在世界各地教学 写作 设计雕塑和家具
He died in 2012, when he was 104 years old.
He was given a hero’s funeral and thousands joined the cortege.
What his nation was honouring was an architect
who had given it a workable yet ideal portrait of itself.
He had enabled Brazil to break free from a sterile European modernism,
and to create buildings that better reflected the nation’s uniqueness.
Niemeyer remains an example to all architects
who aspire to put up buildings that remember the distinctiveness of their locations,
architects who may like their computers or their phones to be universal in design,
but are as keen for their buildings to be culturally specific.
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