Thursday, December 17, 2009

Rumble in the Jungle

Oscar Niemeyer’s National Museum in Brasília, by Brooke Hodge/NYT

Architect Oscar Niemeyer celebrated a birthday this week, and here's what he had to say about it:
"Turning 102 is crap, and there is nothing to commemorate."

Of course, on the subject of Niemeyer's life and work, architecture fans would beg to differ.

Earlier this year, Assouline published a beautiful, expensive, gigantic new book featuring Matthieu Salvaing's photographs of the Brazilian modernist's work. It weights 15 pounds. It costs $550. If you have $8500 in spare change lying around (get ready, Coinstar) you can pick up the special
Niemeyer-designed lectern that goes with it. (What is it with gigantic books that require their own stands?)

A spread from the book Oscar Niemeyer (Assouline) by Matthieu Salvaing. Photo Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

The rest of us can enjoy the Oscar Niemeyer Flickr pool, or sit back and enjoy this feature:
In the 1950s, Brazil decided it would be a perfectly reasonable idea to move the capital to the center of the country’s interior plateau (read: nowhere). To facilitate this sensible endeavor they enlisted Oscar Niemeyer – an ardent communist and proponent of modern architecture who, alongside his buddy Le Corbusier, had co-designed the UN building in New York – to build a crazy spacepod city in the middle of the planalto. Brasilia provided Niemeyer the perfect template to test out all the theoretical business he and his modernist colleagues had been cooking up for the past two decades. Together with urban planner Luis Costa, he designed a functionally integrated city full of massive concrete mushroom buildings and swooping aluminum spires and twisty overpasses and skyways and symbolic edifices and designated “sectors” where no one would ever have to watch out for traffic or wait at a stoplight. It’s basically the bastard child of Alphaville and Albany, NY, and to this day remains a benchmark in what we really hope the future is going to look like. It also sealed his reputation as one of the century’s most influential architects and certainly its most influential Brazilian. Then an anti-communist military junta seized control of the country and kicked him out.
You get the idea. Here it is:

More resources on Niemeyer are online here. Read a review of Matthieu Salvaing's
book by Elaine Louie at, and if you actually want to shell out for it, more info can be found at Assouline, which describes itself as "the publishing house for people of taste."

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