Not Albert Speer

by Andrew Stuttaford

Oscar Niemeyer, a Brazilian architect of genius, has died, at the impressive age of 104.

The Economist remembers him here. Here’s an extract:

Brazil’s most famous architect turned the functionalism of Le Corbusier into a sensual minimalism that was at once daring and restrained. His motto was not that “form follows function” but that “form follows beauty”. Like the functionalists he worked in reinforced concrete, but found poetry in it. He rejected right angles in favour of the “liberated, sensual curves” found in “the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean, and on the body of the beloved woman”—shapes displayed in the stunning setting and bright, clear sunlight of his home city, Rio de Janeiro.

But then there’s this:

A lifelong communist, Mr Niemeyer spent most of the 21 years in which Brazil was ruled by a military dictatorship in Europe. He visited the Soviet Union and designed the Paris headquarters for the French Communist Party.

But, wait, that was not so bad really because…

 “[F]or him communism was more an abstract Utopia than everyday politics”.

Think about that for a second, and ask yourself how effective a plea of mitigation that really is. As the history of the Twentieth Century reminds us, Utopians can be a very lethal lot.

The Guardian notes:

Niemeyer had joined the Communist party in 1945 and, unwavering in his support, was its president from 1992 to 1996. He was awarded the Lenin peace prize in 1963. His close friends included Fidel Castro who, in later years, joked, “Niemeyer and I are the last communists of this planet.”


On the most charitable interpretations, this architect of remarkable vision was also, it seems, quite blind.

Oscar Niemeyer, winner of the Lenin Peace Prize, RIP.

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