ARCHITECTS | 15 December 2010 :: Oscar Niemeyer’s 103rd Birthday ::: Part 2 > Fondação Oscar Niemeyer/Oscar Niemeyer Foundation



On our first visit (also known as an architectural pilgrimage) to Rio, we availed ourselves of the extremely knowledgeable and helpful Cleopatra at the Visitor Information Centre below at 199 Avenida Princesa Isabel (click on the images if you want a Google map of its location).

Brazilians are great hosts, and Cleopatra knew it all. I especially liked her “segura“/”não segura” warnings about the quality of the water at Rio’s famous beaches. She had opinions and we liked them!

When we asked her if it were possible to visit Oscar Niemeyer’s free-form Casa das Canoas up in the hills above São Conrado (below), she got on the phone and dialled the Fondação Oscar Niemeyer/Oscar Niemeyer Foundation (FON/ONF) and inquired for us (click the screenshot below for a Simply Red video shot at the casa).

They told her to tell us to drop by the Foundation and they’d arrange things from there. We asked if they’d be able speak English and she replied, “they’re middle-class. They must speak English.” We said “ciao!” and thanks (again) and schlepped through the Túnel Engenheiro Marques Porto

… past Lota de Macedo Soares’s magnificent Parque do Aterro do Flamengo (under construction in the photo below) to Glória and tried to find Oscar’s Foundation.

When we finally got there we were surprised to find it incongruously housed in, well, a house — from another century — not what you’d expect from a visionary architect (click the photos for Google Street Views of the old Foundation).

The neighbourhood and the Foundation’s offices had seen better days, but, the staff were superfriendly. They called the groundskeeper at the casa and we were In like Flynn.

The next day we had a full hour to explore the house Oscar built for himself, an unforgettable architectural pilgrimage, all thanks to the kindness of the people at the FON/ONF.


Yesterday, on the architect’s 103rd birthday, a new building was inaugurated to house Niemeyer’s drawings, plans, models, and other architect paraphernalia.

The masterarchitect made it to the opening and the event hit the world news:

This isn’t the first museum associated with the architect’s name — progressive Curitiba has the distinction of having the first, the Museu Oscar Niemeyer(MON), which was re-inaugurated in 2003 to honour its creator (below).

I think it’s a mess of a building; one of Niemeyer’s worst. It lacks Niemeyer’s trademark elegance and sinuosity. It borders on pop art. Or kitsch — take your pick. The locals refer to it as the Museu do Olho or Museum of the Eye.

Niterói (I love that word; it’s so exotic with that acute accent over the “O”) is a strange place, seemingly forever destined to play second fiddle to Rio-across-the-Bay.

That was until the Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói(MAC) opened in 1996 and thrust the city into the international limelight.

It’s a magnificent structure that plays against the curves of Pão de Açúcar across the Bay, hovering on that massive pillar, defying the logistics of cantilevering.

But it’s a crap art gallery; one of the worst I’ve ever visited. In that way, it’s a folly, but one that brings in the tourists. (Tourists to Brazil probably fall into two camps: Carnaval revellers or Niemeyer fans.)

The mayor of Niterói, Jorge Roberto Silveira, knows this, and has promoted the development of Caminho Niemeyer Way — the world’s third largest collection of Niemeyer’s works in one city after Brasília and Belo Horizonte — to further enhance the Second City’s reputation as a “go-to” place.

Like the other city (Avilés, Spain) that inaugurated a Niemeyer yesterday (next post), Niterói is hoping for a “Bilbao Effect” (i.e. Bilbao’s massive inflow of tourists after Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim opened in 1997) to make a similar impact on the number of tourist bucks flowing across Guanabara Bay from Rio.

But when the MAC opened in ’96, the press questioned whether or not Oscar — the master of Brazilian Free-Form Modernism, then aged 89  —  had lost his architectural mojo:

Yesterday, with the newest Niterói Niemeyer, the world’s oldest architect has proven that his mind is still fertile ground for imagining amazing and beautiful structures. The FON/ONF is a thing a beauty, a sensuous snail of a sphere with an extremely suggestive opening flowing from yet another spectacular Niemeyer ramp, all surrounded by a reflecting pond, another O.N. trademark.

Bravo Oscar! Next visit to Brazil, the FON/ONF is on the top of our hit list.

And we’re hoping Cleopatra’s still working at the Visitor Information hut.

Foto > Leonardo Finotti (see his amazing website, below)

Arquine | INTERVIEW > La invención y la sorpresa: Conversación con Oscar Niemeyer

Wikipedia | MON Curitiba

Wikipedia |MAC Niterói

Oscar Niemeyer Minha Arquitetura 1937-2004 | Caminho Niemeyer

designKULTUR | ARCHITECTURE | Building the Caminho Niemeyer Way ::: A Google Earth History :: 2002 – 2010