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Fri December 7, 2012

A Look At Brazil's Big Dreamer, Architect Oscar Niemeyer

Originally published on Fri December 7, 2012 4:27 pm

There are a number of ways to leave a legacy. Some people have kids. Some become president. Or you can build unforgettable buildings that define the landscape.

Throughout his 104 years, architect Oscar Niemeyer defied the rules and even cheated death for a long while, working well into his last years. He died Wednesday of a respiratory infection and received a fitting tribute in this obituary in The New York Times.

Design was in Niemeyer's blood. He was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1907 to a graphic artist, his father.

After working with the legendary Swiss architect Le Corbusier, the commissions flowed.

Niemeyer's biggest task, starting in 1956, was effectively to design Brasilia from the ground up when it was chosen as Brazil's new capital in the country's interior. He was the chief architect responsible for many public buildings — a unique opportunity to determine the look and feel of an entire city in just a few years.

He broke all of the molds, lived and breathed outside the proverbial box and eschewed the expectations he had inherited. Politically, he was aligned with the far left, which complicated his career at times, especially during years of military dictatorship in Brazil and during the Cold War.

Philosophically, Niemeyer defied the axiom of contemporary modernists that "form follows function."

As Niemeyer put it: "Form follows beauty."

In a 2005 interview in the New York Times Magazine, Niemeyer said, "The ultimate task of the architect is to dream. Otherwise nothing happens."

And in Niemeyer's dreams, beauty was found in curved lines. Creativity flows from bending the straight lines of authority. Those ideas, in addition to his buildings and sculptures, are Niemeyer's legacy.

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