RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – The city where architect Oscar Niemeyer was born 104 years ago was saying goodbye Friday with a public vigil, flowers and yes, samba.
After a viewing in Brasilia, in the presidential palace he himself designed, Niemeyer’s body was flown to Rio for a vigil. Men and women filed by his wooden casket covered by a Brazilian flag and three red roses in the City Palace, paying their respects before a private funeral. The traditional samba group “Banda de Ipanema” announced it would play at the interment, since the famed architect was also a patron of the irreverent troupe.
Niemeyer died Wednesday, 10 days before his 105th birthday, of a respiratory infection.
Most of those honoring Niemeyer with a last visit were simply thankful for his contribution: creating an architecture that was quintessentially Brazilian and internationally acclaimed.
“His legacy is great,” said Julia Fernandes Souza, 67. “It will be with us forever. I am here to thank him.”
Niemeyer’s unmistakable designs gave the country’s capital, Brasilia, a uniquely Brazilian aesthetic. The architect used concrete as it were something malleable, using it to create great sensuous curves, or letting it flow like water to imbue static structures with a sense of movement. He also designed much of the United Nation’s New York complex and countless works in several other nations.
The extent of national and international regard for the man and his work was clear in the words of visitors and in the cascade of flowers and crowns that flanked his casket, including two from the Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul. In a nod to Niemeyer’s communist militance, Fidel Castro’s crown was dedicated to “the unconditional friend of Cuba, Oscar Niemeyer.” Raul Castro’s was sent to “dear friend Niemeyer.” Still a third crown came from Cuba’s ambassador in Brazil.
Although Niemeyer is credited with downplaying the transformative power of what he did, saying, “architecture doesn’t change anything. It’s always on the side of the rich. What’s important is believing that life can be better.” It was Niemeyer’s political stance and outspoken defense of the poor that moved Neuza Saraiva, 70, to join the many lining up to pay their last respects Friday.
“He was a great artist, an extraordinary human being, and a real communist,” said Saraiva, who shared his political stance. “I saw in his work the representation of his ideal. Communism is about the people, and what he did, he did for the people.”
Just as not everyone loved his unique style _ art critic Robert Hughes once called Brasilia a “utopian horror” _ Niemeyer’s politics also earned him sharp criticism, even on the day he died. A columnist for the conservative magazine Veja caused a stir by calling Niemeyer “half-genius, half-idiot,” and saying the man thought and wrote “detestable things,” and defended “homicidal regimes.”
Much of Brazil, however, seemed ready to put aside differences and celebrate with commemorations for the man who once said, “I love life and life loves me. We’re an unbearable couple.”
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