Oscar Niemeyer (1907 - 2012)


Ink on translucent paper
height: 70cm
width: 100cm

Donated by Edward Sullivan 2008


This page combines several different types of architectural sketch. The distinctive sweeping forms at the top are identifiable as the great bird-like auditorium of the University of Constantine in Algeria which Niemeyer had designed and built between 1969 and 1972. The various diagrammatic shapes in the oval, to the upper left, are similar to drawings for the layout of the University of Constantine campus. Bottom right again looks like a very preliminary idea for the layout of some large complex, while the figure above with measurements indicates how fast Niemeyer could move between large loose concepts and precise detail. The cross-section of a domed space to the lower left with the body of an aeroplane suspended within it must be a reference to the building known as the Oca built in 1954 in Ibirapuera Park in São Paulo, and which used to be an aeronautical museum. While it may look like a futuristic spaceship, Niemeyer referred to it as the Oca because it is the shape of an indigenous house, an ‘oca’ in Tupi-Guaraní, and to draw attention to the parallels between tradition and modernity that he so much enjoyed but that others often overlook.

About the donation

Niemeyer’s drawings are so spontaneous, so casual, they often seem more like doodles than the beginnings of buildings, but they were his way of thinking, of translating thoughts into images on paper, ideas into buildings. In conversation, when asked about his architecture he used to say he did not like talking about architecture very much: instead of using words he preferred to draw, or to draw and talk simultaneously. The two pages of drawings in ESCALA are examples of Niemeyer’s visual-verbal type of conversation. In the year 2000 Professor Edward Sullivan of New York University visited Niemeyer in Rio de Janeiro to discuss a possible architectural contribution to the Brazil Body and Soul exhibition Sullivan was planning for the Guggenheim Museum for 2001 about the art of Brazil. These sketches were among many that Niemeyer produced during their discussions: they are his visualised thoughts, and in particular his thoughts about the curve. For Niemeyer, the curve was central to his practice. He translated the curves of his native Rio, of hills and shore-lines, of clouds and waves, of birds and flowers and women’s bodies into curvaceous architectural ideas: these ideas then took visible form, first as fluent sketches, and then as more detailed drawings; some of these would then be developed, usually by assistants, into fully worked-up plans and eventually, in some cases, into buildings. Meanwhile Niemeyer himself never stopped sketching, and in his visual-verbal conversations he would revisit older themes alongside new possibilities. This is what is happening in the ESCALA examples.

Valerie Fraser, 2012

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