As Oscar Niemeyer Turns 104 Today, Brasília Glows More Brightly
Few of us will live to see our greatest and most audacious work reach the half-century mark. But Rio de Janeiro native and mid-century architecture giant Oscar Niemeyer has had the pleasure to watch Brazil’s capital Brasília, his magnum opus, turn 50 last year. At a time when architecture for the most part is uninspiring and the profession is in flux, Niemeyer leaves us a rich legacy and he can beam knowing that he has lived long enough to watch it grow. While Brasília is his best known work, other buildings he has designed stand tall around the world. New York has the United Nations building, Milan has the Mondadori headquarters, and even furniture he designed while he was in exile has added immensely to his copious design portfolio. Not all of his work has succeeded, even if a building was dedicated to him. The Oscar Niemeyer Cultural Center (Centro Niemeyer) in Avilés, Spain, will close today because of financial difficulties. Now that Brasília and Brazil are major players on the global political and economic scene, expect Brazil’s capital to change. Brasília is modernizing and its leaders are determined to transform the city into a more sustainable place to live and work. After decades of criticism, critics are finally appreciating the city for what it is: a modernist masterpiece. There may be no Nobel Prize for architecture, but Niemeyer has his Pritzker, and his ability to think not big but huge, confront our assumptions about the built environment and take enormous risks make him not only a treasure of Brazil, but for the world. Happy Birthday, Oscar Niemeyer. You deserve to celebrate even more. And thank you for refusing to stop designing and inspiring. Pictured: Congresso Nacional, one of Niemeyer's projects, courtesy Wiki Commons.