Today is a very special day. We are on our way to meet the legendary architect and artist Oscar Niemeyer in his office in the upmarket Rio de Janeiro neighbourhood of Copacabana. Located on the Avenida Atlantica, it has stunning views of the bay and the long oceanfront boulevard.
Meeting Oscar Niemeyer – by CoolBrands Around the World in 80 Brands
Inside, we get a glimpse of how the mind of a creative genius works. The walls are covered with hasty sketches, detailed drawings and photos of completed projects; the desks are overflowing with papers and notebooks, and there are books everywhere.
Niemeyer receives us in his library, surrounded by his books, and starts talking about Rio, which is for him all about the Brazilian soul – and youth. “Le Corbusier once said that I had Rio’s mountains in my eyes,” he says. “I laughed.”
While Niemeyer celebrated his 100th birthday in 2007, his mind remains as sharp as a knife and his spirit is young. I mention that it is a great honour for us to meet him, and he replies: “I am very happy to meet you too, I am happy that young people are interested in my work and that I can transfer my knowledge and experience to the next generations.”
I ask him what his favourite building is. “Tough question,” he replies, “there are many that I like and several that I don’t like so much anymore. But let me turn the question around: what is your favourite building?”
“We visited the modern art museum that you designed in Niterói during one of our previous visits to Rio and loved it,” Maarten says. “What do you think?”
“Niterói was easy to design,” Oscar replies, “the site is so beautiful. There is a single central support with the architecture rising up around it, like a flower. Then the ramp, inviting people to visit the museum, a gentle curving walk through the architecture and the beautiful landscape, running under the building.
“I don’t see my architecture as an ideal solution but, modestly, as my architecture. It is not the 90-degree angle that attracts me, nor straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man. 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, in the body of a beloved woman.”
“What was it like to work on creating the new Brazilian capital, Brasilia?”
“It was a three-hour flight from Rio to Brasilia, which meant I had to live there for the duration of the project. I confess I did not have a good impression of the site. Far removed from everything, it was an abandoned, empty land. When I moved to Brasilia, I invited some friends along – a doctor, two journalists and four other comrades who were not into architecture, who were funny and intelligent – because I didn’t want to spend the nights talking about architecture.”
“The most important thing for me is not architecture, but family, friends and this unfair world that we need to change.”
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By Maarten Schäfer – By Maarten Schafer