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A Look At Brazil's Big Dreamer, Architect Oscar Niemeyer

Posted: December 7, 2012

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The legendary architect was living proof that sometimes, you have to bend the rules. In doing so, he created the visual language for an entire city.

Construction for the headquarters of the French Communist Party began in the late 1960s.

Construction for the headquarters of the French Communist Party began in the late 1960s. Christophe Ena

"The Volcano" at Le Havre Cultural Center, France, built in 1982. Mychele Daniau

The Oscar Niemeyer Museum, inaugurated in 2002, the largest museum in Latin America, is in Curitiba, the capital of the state of Parana, Brazil. Curitiba, considered an outstanding example of urban planning worldwide and the ecological capital of Brazil, was chosen as one of the 12 host cities for the 2014 soccer World Cup.

The Oscar Niemeyer Museum, inaugurated in 2002, the largest museum in Latin America, is in Curitiba, the capital of the state of Parana, Brazil. Curitiba, considered an outstanding example of urban planning worldwide and the ecological capital of Brazil, was chosen as one of the 12 host cities for the 2014 soccer World Cup. David Silverman

A pianist at Auditorium Oscar Niemeyer in Ravello on the day of its official inauguration in 2009, with Italy's Amalfi coast in the background.

A pianist at Auditorium Oscar Niemeyer in Ravello on the day of its official inauguration in 2009, with Italy's Amalfi coast in the background. Roberto Salomone

Brasilia Cathedral was inaugurated by President Juscelino Kubitschek in 1960.

Brasilia Cathedral was inaugurated by President Juscelino Kubitschek in 1960. Evaristo Sa

The interior of Brasilia Cathedral.

The interior of Brasilia Cathedral. Evaristo Sa

The Niteroi Museum of Contemporary Art near Rio de Janeiro, built in 1991.

The Niteroi Museum of Contemporary Art near Rio de Janeiro, built in 1991. Vanderlei Almeida

Auditorium Oscar Niemeyer in Ravello, Italy, on the day of its inauguration.

Auditorium Oscar Niemeyer in Ravello, Italy, on the day of its inauguration. Roberto Salomone

Brasilia's National Museum, inaugurated in 1960.

Brasilia's National Museum, inaugurated in 1960. EVARISTO SA

The National Congress building in Brasilia.

The National Congress building in Brasilia.

One of Oscar Niemeyer's earliest projects, built in the early 1940s, came to be known as the

One of Oscar Niemeyer's earliest projects, built in the early 1940s, came to be known as the "Pampulha architectural complex." It was commissioned by Juscelino Kubitschek, who would later become president of Brazil. At the time, he was mayor of Belo Horizonte. The complex included a church, which was initially refused for consecration by the Roman Catholic Church.

The inauguration of the Oscar Niemeyer foundation building in Niteroi, Brazil, 2010.

The inauguration of the Oscar Niemeyer foundation building in Niteroi, Brazil, 2010. Felipe Dana

Part of Niemeyer's foundation building in Niteroi, Brazil, 2010.

Part of Niemeyer's foundation building in Niteroi, Brazil, 2010. Felipe Dana

By the late 1950s, Kubitschek was president of Brazil, and he invited Niemeyer to design many of the civic buildings in the country's new capital of Brasilia, including the Palacio da Alvorada, the official residence of Brazilian presidents, pictured here in 2006.

By the late 1950s, Kubitschek was president of Brazil, and he invited Niemeyer to design many of the civic buildings in the country's new capital of Brasilia, including the Palacio da Alvorada, the official residence of Brazilian presidents, pictured here in 2006. Eraldo Peres

Oscar Niemeyer International Cultural Center of Asturias, Spain, built in 2006.

Oscar Niemeyer International Cultural Center of Asturias, Spain, built in 2006. Luis Davilla

The Federal Supreme Court in Brasilia.

The Federal Supreme Court in Brasilia. Evaristo Sa

A church, pictured circa 1955 on the grounds of the presidential palace, is connected to the palace by an underground hallway.

A church, pictured circa 1955 on the grounds of the presidential palace, is connected to the palace by an underground hallway. Kurt Severin

A composite image shows architect Oscar Niemeyer in 1992 (left), and one of his buildings photographed circa 1955.

A composite image shows architect Oscar Niemeyer in 1992 (left), and one of his buildings photographed circa 1955.

Oscar Niemeyer in 1992 (left) and Niemeyer Center in Aviles, Spain, 2011

Oscar Niemeyer in 1992 (left) and Niemeyer Center in Aviles, Spain, 2011

Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer looks at drawings for a project of two cities in Senegal, Africa, in his office in Rio de Janeiro, 1992.

Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer looks at drawings for a project of two cities in Senegal, Africa, in his office in Rio de Janeiro, 1992. Antonio Scorza

There are a number of ways to leave a legacy. Some people have kids. Some become president. Or you can build unforgettable buildings that define the landscape.

Throughout his 104 years, architect Oscar Niemeyer defied the rules and even cheated death for a long while, working well into his last years. He died Wednesday of a respiratory infection and received a fitting tribute in this obituary in The New York Times.

Design was in Niemeyer's blood. He was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1907 to a graphic artist, his father.

After working with the legendary Swiss architect Le Corbusier, the commissions flowed.

Niemeyer's biggest task, starting in 1956, was effectively to design Brasilia from the ground up when it was chosen as Brazil's new capital in the country's interior. He was the chief architect responsible for many public buildings — a unique opportunity to determine the look and feel of an entire city in just a few years.

He broke all of the molds, lived and breathed outside the proverbial box and eschewed the expectations he had inherited. Politically, he was aligned with the far left, which complicated his career at times, especially during years of military dictatorship in Brazil and during the Cold War.

Philosophically, Niemeyer defied the axiom of contemporary modernists that "form follows function."

As Niemeyer put it: "Form follows beauty."

In a 2005 interview in the New York Times Magazine, Niemeyer said, "The ultimate task of the architect is to dream. Otherwise nothing happens."

And in Niemeyer's dreams, beauty was found in curved lines. Creativity flows from bending the straight lines of authority. Those ideas, in addition to his buildings and sculptures, are Niemeyer's legacy.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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