31 March 2009

Oscar Niemeyer: 101, Fecund & Going Strong

Never was a medal so justified as the one just received by the great Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, who in December completed no less than 101 years, still working. The Brazilian Labour Minister travelled to Neimeyer’s professional studio in Río de Janeiro to hand over the order of merit Getulio Vargas.

Militant Communist and exiled to Paris during the Brazilian dictatorship, Niemeyer’s work is marked “by the political and by the defence of workers”, says the official citation about this thinker. Friend of Fidel Castro, he praises President Lula and defends without any reservation Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales. The creator of tens of futuristic buildings throughout the world, he still comes every day to his office at Copacabana to supervise the projects he designs and his collaborators develop.

To the world, Niemeyer will always be associated with Brasilia, the modern capital of the country created out of nothing. But for the inhabitants of Río, he is one of their most illustrious residents and there are few who do not know where the architect lives. Many tourist guides even point to his window while passing through Ipanema, the neighbourhood where it is possible to see the artist dining in some restaurant, tucking into fish accompanied by his brand new wife, Vera Lúcia Cabreira of 62 years.

Brand new because Niemeyer married Cabreira, his secretary for more than two decades, on the eve of turning 99, with the resulting commotion. His first wife, Annita Baldo, died in 2004 after 76 years of marriage. Another record, despite that he has always been recognised to be a womaniser. Niemeyer only had a daughter, Ana Maria, but his descendants have been more numerous: four grandchildren, 13 great grandchildren and 7 great great grandchildren.

His links with Río are also remembered at each carnival, as the architect, a great lover of samba, is author of the city’s popular sambadrome, constructed in 1984. And also visible from Río is the spectacular UFO designed by the Río resident for the neighbouring city of Niterói, in the heart of the Bay of Guanabara, the seat of the Museum of Contemporary Art. In Niterói, which already counts six of his creation, his latest was inaugurated this month: a 600 square metre community centre emerging above the red bricks of the Palacio favela.

This is Neimeyer’s second work in the slum. The first was the house of Amaro, his driver.

Source: La Vanguardia

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