Oscar Niemeyer, one of the 20th century’s greatest and most imaginative Modernist architects, is due to mark his 100th birthday on Saturday, December 15. But why limit a quick biographic and birthday sketch to just one century? The centenarian maintains an active practice in his hometown of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Oscar Niemeyer
Photo © Giuseppe Bizzarri / WPN

Oscar Niemeyer photographed in his studio, December 2002. The Brazilian architect will celebrate his 100th birthday this Saturday, December 15.

National Congress Building, Brazil Photo © Douglas Harrison Engle/WPN

Designed and built during the late 1950s and early 1960s, Niemeyer’s works in Brasília, Brazil’s capital city, include the National Congress Building.

In contemplating Niemeyer’s career, which began during the 1930s when he joined a team of Brazilian architects collaborating with Le Corbusier, a good case can be made that his legacy will be Brazil’s capital, Brasília. He was engaged to advise on the city’s design in 1956 and soon became its chief architect, creating many of the key public buildings until changing political winds forced him to leave the country in 1964. Contemporary observers might fault this city ex nuovo for its decidedly unsustainable qualities, as indeed past generations saw it as overblown and bleakly underpopulated, but it’s hard to ignore the influence that Niemeyer’s dynamic, sculptural forms—rendered largely in concrete—still have a half-century later.

It’s also easy to detect the influence of Niemeyer’s earlier work on his current projects, including those in the city of Niterói, located across the Guanabara Bay from Rio de Janeiro. His works there include the Niterói Museum of Contemporary Art, which dates to 1996 and is considered a later masterpiece, and the Popular Theater, which opened this April.

Niterói Museum of Contemporary Art
Photo © Giuseppe Bizzarri/WPN

The city of Niterói, located across the Guanabara Bay from Rio de Janeiro, features some of Niemeyer’s most recent projects. The Popular Theater, for example, opened on April 5, 2007 and marked the beginning of celebrations in advance of Niemeyer’s centennial birthday.