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"The architect's role is to fight for a better world, where he can produce an architecture that serves everyone and not just a group of privileged people."
"It is important that the architect think not only of architecture but of how architecture can solve the problems of the world."
Oscar Niemeyer was born Oscar Ribeiro de Almeida Niemeyer Soares Filho on December 15, 1907, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He grew up in a wealthy family without any aspirations toward being an architect, though he started drawing at an early age. "When I was very little," he later recalled, "my mother said I used to draw in the air with my fingers. I needed a pencil. Once I could hold one, I have drawn every day since." After graduating from Barnabitas College in 1923, Niemeyer wed a woman named Annita Baldo, to whom he would remain married until her death in 2004.
As a young man, Niemeyer worked for his father at a typography house for a short while before entering the Escola Nacional de Belas Artes, from which he graduated in 1934. Shortly before graduation, he joined the offices of Lúcio Costa, an architect from the Modernist school. Niemeyer worked with Costa on many major buildings between 1936 and 1943, including the design for Brazil's Ministry of Education and Health building, which was part of a collaboration with Bauhaus director Le Corbusier. Costa and Niemeyer also worked together on Brazil's iconic pavilion in the 1939 New York World's Fair; legendary Mayor Fiorello La Guardia was so impressed with Niemeyer's design that he declared him an honorary citizen of New York.
In 1941, Niemeyer launched his solo career by designing a series of buildings in a new suburb of Rio de Janeiro named Pampulha. Here, Niemeyer started developing some of his design trademarks, including the heavy use of concrete and a propensity toward curves. "I consciously ignored the highly praised right angle and the rational architecture of T-squares and triangles," he said, "in order to wholeheartedly enter the world of curves and new shapes made possible by the introduction of concrete into the building process."
Niemeyer's status as a rising star in the architectural world was confirmed when he was chosen to represent Brazil as part of the team to design the new headquarters of the United Nations in New York City; the final building was based primarily on Niemeyer's design, with significant elements also taken from his old collaborator, Corbusier. Following the completion of the United Nations building in 1953, Niemeyer won an appointment as dean of Harvard University's Graduate School of Design, but he was refused an American work visa by the United States government due to his membership in Brazil's Communist Party.
In 1956, Juscelino Kubitschek, the president of Brazil and a close friend of Niemeyer, came to the architect with a proposal, asking Niemeyer to become the new chief architect of public buildings in the country's new capital, Brasilia, a Modernist civic metropolis being built from scratch in the interior of the country.
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