Legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer celebrated his 100th birthday this past Saturday and is still hard at work. In fact, he spent the day talking about his next project: the Centro Cultural de Aviles, a $45 million arts center along Spain’s northern coast.
Niemeyer says the building will be one of his most beautiful yet. The design includes his trademark curves, made famous by his flying saucer-shaped National Museum, in Brasília, and his Niterói Contemporary Art Museum, near Rio de Janeiro. The Aviles complex includes two buildings surrounded by a 1.5-acre outdoor plaza. One building will house a museum and meeting facilities; it will be formed of a serpentine-shaped concrete structure housing a 1,000-seat conference hall and a 44,000-square-foot art gallery with 65.5-foot-tall ceilings. The second building will include smaller galleries, a movie theater, restaurant, observatory tower, and additional meeting rooms.
The cultural complex will be located in a 1950s industrial zone of Aviles’s port that has since fallen into decay. Supporters hope that, when realized, Niemeyer’s design will help this small seaside town become an international destination, similar to what happened with Bilbao after Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum opened there in 1997. Niemeyer began working on the project pro bono as a gift to the city in 2005, the 25th anniversary of his receiving the Prince of Asturias Prize. This honor is bestowed each year in Aviles to honor contributions to science, the humanities, or public affairs.
The Centro Cultural de Aviles will join an alliance of cultural institutions worldwide. Dubbed the “G-8” of culture, the network includes London’s Barbican Centre, the Pompidou Center in Paris, the Sydney Opera House, the Alexandria Library in Egypt, the Tokyo International Forum, and the Hong Kong Cultural Center. British physicist Stephen Hawking, Internet pioneer Vinton Cerf, director Woody Allen, and Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho will act as artistic advisers to the center in Aviles.
“I very much applaud the vision of the national, Asturian regional and local authorities in their bold artistic project with Oscar Niemeyer,” says Graham Sheffield, artistic director of the Barbican. “It is a well-known fact that a strong cultural policy can lead to significant urban and social regeneration. Aviles and its neighbors will surely benefit immensely from 2010 onwards, when this beautiful building opens.”
Construction is scheduled to begin in March and the center is slated to open in 2010. Niemeyer plans to travel to Spain to see the first brick laid, but this will depend on his health.