A Brazilian legend died on Wednesday. Oscar Niemeyer, who died at the age of 104, was the quintessential national hero and someone who changed the image of Brazil all across the world.
He was one of the few figures that can cause national mourning in my country. Not a footballer, a film star or even a politician, but an architect. It’s fascinating how closely associated he was with his native country in a way that no other architect has managed to achieve.
I’ve never been to Brasilia, the capital that he helped to build, but now my heart tells me I need to visit. Where it used to be only forest, Niemeyer transformed it into a visual delight, one of the most extravagant “planned” capitals in the world.
I have been lucky enough to visit a few of his works. I saw Niterói’s contemporary art museum with its UFO-type design and others in my hometown, São Paulo: the Edifício Copan with its sinuous façade and even Ibirapuera Park, one of the few green spots in the whole city.
Niemeyer represented an innate sort of modernism that did much to project Brazil’s image abroad. His curves and avoidance of straight lines gave an image of a country that’s ready for something new. He was, as they say, the poet of the curve. It all matched perfectly with the image Brazil tried to establish in the 1960s, and one that it still strives to reach.
I’m not sure if there will be another one quite like him. One of my first tasks at Monocle was to try to arrange an interview with Niemeyer. He was, at the time, seriously ill, and not open to interviews. I was just thrilled that I spoke with his assistant. For a Brazilian, it’s like a Brit calling the Queen; an Italian the Pope.
Niemeyer is gone but his influence will remain. He has inspired a generation of architects at home and abroad and has designed some of the world’s most iconic buildings that millions will continue to admire. Brazil is about to welcome the world: the Olympics and World Cup will showcase the best my country has to offer. Niemeyer’s legacy will ensure that it’s not just our sport that will inspire.