“Things are difficult. You get older and find yourself saying goodbye to people. Life doesn’t make a lot of sense. But it’s more meaningful if the will to be useful and to help your neighbour predominates. Human beings have to be realistic. We live, die and see others die – at the very least there should exist a spirit of solidarity.”
-Niemeyer in 2010.
I’ve been finding it difficult to write about Oscar Niemeyer’s passing yesterday at the astounding age of 104. How can one summarize the full extent of Niemeyer’s impact when I’m not sure we are even aware of it now?
With a life that spanned over a century, and a practice that continued up until his final days as he continued to sketch from his hospital bed, the true scope of his influence on architectural discourse, practice, and design as a whole will continue to unfold for generations. His designs were not just a collection of singularities to be admired individually, but rather a cognitive whole that reformatted the accepted European view of modernism; regionalized it, exemplified its ideals and even exposed its fallacies. His building’s importance far surpass their beauty, not only shifting traditional archetypes of civic and public buildings, but actually changing the way government, religion, and habitation function both individually and as a societal whole. He showed an inimitable resolve through the course of his life, working through political repression, the cold war, numerous economic downturns, and harsh public backlash, all the while maintaining a consistent vision of how architecture can function in the world.
Yesterday we certainly lost one of the most important figures in architectural history (and also human history), but his legacy has, and will continue to leave an unmatchable mark on the urban experience.