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Oscar Niemeyer Pictorial Construction and the Habitat of the Curve


As if built out of brushstrokes, the work of Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer continues to captivate the world.

“It has been said, with reason, that the effect of a room with beautiful proportions will be perceived by someone walking through it even if they are blindfolded.” So wrote Heinrich Wölfflin in his celebrated book Fundamental Concepts of Art History. Architecture is known as the clothing worn by the world. Humans are those who pass in and through the entrances of buildings that mark off and give significance and symbolism to these many different spaces. The senses, in each place distinguished by beautiful architecture, are able to enjoy the perfection of space surrounding them.

To write about the vision of Oscar Niemeyer (Río de Janeiro, 1907) is to try to tackle the creative complexity that this centenarian architect has implemented for decades, dressing cities in sensual buildings of concrete.

The works conceived by this architect are like pictorial structures, with their own perfect symmetries, dancing in the surrounding cities like a series of swirling brushstrokes. The marvel of his creations comes partly from their seemingly natural relation to their surroundings, creating a sort of intrinsic beauty. Niemeyer’s buildings often allow visitors to enjoy the space they inhabit, with, for example, spiral staircases that offer changing views of the structures and furniture surrounding them, giving the visitor the feeling that they are passing through a very work of art.

In his art form Niemeyer practices the idea that the world should be shared by all of its inhabitants and even if architecture by itself can’t achieve that lofty goal, he continues to work to make sure that his creations at least inspire towards it.

Niemeyer’s understanding of the curve, inspired by nature’s subtle motions in snails, irises and other plants, is unparalleled in architecture. In words of Le Corbusier (who has shared many ideas with Niemeyer) that capture the essence of the great architect’s work: “They have forgotten that grand architecture comes from the very origins of humanity; that it is the immediate product of the human instinct.”

Joseph Rykwert postulates, assuming that Adam must have lived in some sort of structure even while he was in the Garden of Eden, the symbolic weight that architecture possesses. If Rykwerts supposition is true, this Edenic dwelling surely still lies in the deep unconscious of all of us. In the case of the Brazilian architect, Niemeyer accesses this bountiful original wellspring and, like Prometheus robbing fire from the Gods, uses its secrets to create buildings that reflect an archetypal beauty: the grotto, the cavern, the tree and even the forest.

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