LUXURYCULTURE.COM - Oscar Niemeyer: Form Follows Feminine


Ten years after legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer handed over a model and drawings for a new auditorium on the Italian Riviera, the Modernist performance space has opened on a rocky cliff in the town of Ravello.

“I have always said that it is not the right angle that attracts me. It separates, divides. Nor is it the hard inflexible straight line. I prefer the free, sensual curves that I find in the mountains of Rio, in the sinuous course of rivers, in the waves of the sea, in a beloved woman’s body. I am very sensitive.”
- Oscar Niemeyer

“My work is not about ‘form follows function,’ but ‘form follows beauty’ or, even better, ‘form follows feminine’,” once said the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. And although he denies the popular claim that a woman’s figure is his main inspiration, it is a theory that goes some way in explaining the sensual curves of his most famous work. Niemeyer’s latest structure is no different: a spectacular all-white auditorium on the Italian Riviera that consists of a wave-shaped body punctuated with an eye of a window. Even at 102-years-old, it seems Niemeyer is still captivated by the female form.

The Oscar Niemeyer Auditorium, in the city of Ravello, had been ten years in the making before it officially opened last month. Perched on a dramatic cliff in a town famous for its al fresco music festival, it was designed to offer a year-round performance space. Niemeyer envisioned an elegant building that at once grabs at its modest site (26,000 square meters of rock had to be excavated), while the actual 400-seat theater floats in the air unsupported. Unique to a music hall such as this, is the elliptical window that allows the audience a sea-view while watching the stage, a feature that Niemeyer insisted upon.

Although Niemeyer never visited the town on the Amalfi Coast, his chief engineer José Carlos Sussekind made several trips. Niemeyer himself provided a model and drawings, along with text and his famous sketches.

“Architecture for me has always begun with drawing,” Niemeyer told The Guardian newspaper in 2007. “When I was very little my mother said I used to draw in the air with my fingers. I needed a pencil. Once I could hold one, I have drawn every day since. When I have looked at the site for a building, considered its budget and thought of how it might be built, and what it might be, the drawings come very quickly. I pick up my pen. It flows. A building appears.”

It is these signature sketches that have gone on to become architectural icons, such as The Niterói Contemporary Art Museum in Rio de Janeiro or the entire city of Brasilia for which he constructed dramatic, futuristic public buildings that are now part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. "Of course, I have given my engineers some headaches over the years,” he says of his love for difficult Modernist shapes, which are almost always created from concrete, a material he seized upon because of its flexibility.

“I have always wanted my buildings to be as light as possible, to touch the ground gently, to swoop and soar, and to surprise,” he explained to The Guardian of the philosophy behind his work. “Architecture is invention. It must offer pleasure as well as practicality. If you only worry about function, the result stinks. Many of my buildings have been political and civic monuments, but perhaps some of them have given ordinary people, powerless people, a sense of delight. This is what architects can do. Nothing more."

Still working at 102-years-old, Niemeyer is the last of his generation of great Modernists, which included his contemporaries Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe and Alvar Aalto. Yet he remains energetic and only four years ago married for the second time to his secretary of twenty years. He continues to sketch everyday at his penthouse studio on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro. “As long as I can, I will do it,” he comments on whether he will ever stop. “That’s what I do all day long. I think about architecture and politics and meet with friends who come here to discuss it all.”

Even in his second century of life, Oscar Niemeyer’s talent and originality is as striking as ever. Yet his thoughts on the role of buildings remain unchanged. “Architecture has to be pretty,” he said last year. “It has to amaze to be a masterpiece. I work a lot. I always try to bring beauty and amazement.”

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