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Niemeyer eagerly accepted, designing buildings that went along with his utopian vision of government. "This was a liberating time," he said. "It seemed as if a new society was being born, with all the traditional barriers cast aside .... when planning the government buildings for Brasilia I decided they should be characterized by their own structures within the prescribed shapes ... I tried to push the potential of concrete to its limits,
especially at the load-bearing points which I wanted to be as delicate as possible so that it would seem as if the palaces barely touched the ground."
Niemeyer designed several buildings in Brasilia, including the presidential palace, the Brasília Palace Hotel, the Ministry of Justice building, the presidential chapel and the cathedral. After the inauguration of the new capital city in 1960, Niemeyer resigned from his position as the government's chief architect and returned to private practice.
Niemeyer had become interested in Communist ideology as a youth and joined the Brazilian Communist Party in 1945. This became a serious problem in 1964, when the Brazilian military overthrew the government in a coup; Niemeyer, viewed by the army as an individual with dangerously left-wing sympathies, had his office ransacked. Spooked, the architect left the country of his birth a year later, in 1965, resettling in France and mainly designing buildings in Europe and northern Africa. He also turned to designing furniture, which also included his trademark use of sinuous curves. Niemeyer did not return to Brazil until the end of the military dictatorship in 1985.
Niemeyer received the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1988, the highest award in the profession, for his Cathedral of Brasilia. In his acceptance speech, Niemeyer explained his design philosophy: "My architecture followed the old examples—beauty prevailing over the limitations of the constructive logic. My work proceeded, indifferent to the unavoidable criticism set forth by those who take the trouble to examine the minimum details, so very true of what mediocrity is capable of. It was enough to think of Le Corbusier saying to me once while standing on the ramp of the Congress: 'There is invention here.'"
Semi-retired since the mid-1980s, at the age of 103 Oscar Niemeyer still goes into his office every day to work on designs and oversee projects. Having outlived most of his old friends, intellectual sparring partners and his wife of 60 years, though he remarried in 2006, to his longtime assistant Vera Lucia Cabreira—Niemeyer continues to press for a better world through better design. "It is important," he once said, "that the architect think not only of architecture but of how architecture can solve the problems of the world. 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."
Niemeyer died in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on December 5, 2012. He was 104 years old. A funeral service was held in Brasilia, at the presidential palace he designed more than 50 years earlier.
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