Architect, 101, denied chance to add final flourish to city he created

It is probable that at 101 years old, Oscar Niemeyer, the guru of modernist architecture whose greatest project was the city of Brasilia, is old enough to withstand disappointment, even as large as the one he has just suffered. He thought he was on course to adorn the city’s skyline with one last flourish. But now, suddenly, he isn’t.



Brasilia, widely considered an architectural masterwork and an unparalleled urban catastrophe, will turn 50 next year and it had seemed natural that it should fall to Niemeyer, who is still working at the cusp of his second century, to come up with a suitable new monument to mark the occasion.

Thus was born his blueprint for the “Plaza o fSovereignty”, involving two structures bang in the middle of Brasilia’s main ceremonial avenue, the Monumental Axis. As drawn by Niemeyer it consisted of a 1,000ft curving spike resembling the fin of a spaceship, and a low building before it in the shape of a shallow new moon. It was classic Oscar, a bold gesture of bombast and supple curves in concrete and cement.

To call Niemeyer beloved in Brazil is to get nowhere near describing his stature. An exile in Europe for 21 years during his country’s military dictatorship and still today a self-described communist, he was honoured by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who declared 2008 the Year of Oscar Niemeyer to mark his centenary.

But no sooner had the master architect unveiled his plan, than the complaints started. On blogs, in newspapers and magazines, fellow architects and preservationists fretted that the Plaza would just not do.

It would block the sightlines of central Brasilia and might violate regulations about the preservation of open space between the buildings, many of which Niemeyer designed, including theBrasilia Cathedral and the Ministry of Justice.

Acampaign was launched to protect Niemeyer from himself. “What we normally see is an architect interfering in the work of another architect,” said Sylvia Fischer of the University of Brasilia. “In Niemeyer’s case, he is interfering negatively in his own work. It will be Oscar Niemeyer fighting Oscar Niemeyer.”

In the 1950s, President Juscelino Kubitschek ordered the construction of a new capital on open, unpopulated savannah at 3,500ft, fulfilling a constitutional requirement that the government leave Rio de Janeiro. The task of conjuring the new city fell to the French-born urban planner Lucio Cost, who turned to Niemeyer to provide the plans for myriad buildings, from ministries to housing blocks.

Though now populated by more than two million, Brasilia was condemned by many for being pretentious but inhuman, shortcomings described by Simone de Beauvoir who attended its inauguration in 1960. “What possible interest could there be in wandering about?” she asked. “The street, that meeting ground of … passers-by, of stores and houses, of vehicles and pedestrians … does not exist in Brasilia and never will.”

Theblueprint for the Plaza of Sovereignty was presented to the governor of Brasilia, Jose Roberto Arruda, two weeks ago. “The monument will have a triangle shape to show progress the country has achieved,” Niemeyer said then. “It is designed to perplex whoever looks at it.”

Yet by last week, word was coming from the governor’s office that there was no money to build the Plaza, nor had there ever been. And in a letter to the Correio Braziliense newspaper, Niemeyer said he was ready to give up on ever building the Plaza. But forgive an old man for feeling frustrated.

“In my last visit,” he wrote, “I could feel with clarity the need to create a plaza on a compatible scale with the capital of a country so admired such as our own.”



Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvMartin Freeman’s casting is a stroke of genius

Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival

film
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

    The man who could have been champion of the world

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
    Didn’t she do well?

    Didn’t she do well?

    Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
    Before they were famous

    Before they were famous

    Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

    Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players