Words and photos: Adriano Fagundes
For Chapter 50 of the Frank151 book in 2013, we looked at Brazil, its culture, its history, and its political realities. Now with the whole world watching the country during the 2016 Summer Olympics, we revisit some of the defining articles.
I grew up in Brazil’s capital in the ’70s and ’80s, and of course Oscar Niemeyer’s name has always been in the vocabulary of the city. Everywhere you go in Brasília, you can experience his trademark architecture.
My first memory of Oscar Niemeyer’s work was from when I was about seven years old. Every weekend we would go “climb” the National Congress with my father. I always played in those buildings like they were ancient pyramids, or UFOs ready to take off. Another early memory is from school. I brought home a note from my sixth grade teacher asking all the parents to purchase sunglasses for their kids. Because the buildings in Brasília were mostly built from concrete and glass, they reflect a great amount of light, and that created an unusual wave of kids with eyesight problems. These things only happen in Brasília.
Niemeyer’s pioneering use of reinforced concrete is seen everywhere in the modern city of Brasília. Inaugurated in 1960, it was designed and constructed in four years. Niemeyer continued his work in Brasília until 1964, when he was forced into exile in France due to his affiliation with Brazil’s communist party. Niemeyer’s communist ideology is still obvious, as he is not a very wealthy man. He said he would be embarrassed if he ended up a rich man. Fidel Castro once said, “Niemeyer and I are the last communists on this planet.”
Before his death in 2012 at the age of 105, Oscar Niemeyer was still working on several projects at his office, which overlooks Copacabana beach. When I came to Rio to photograph Niemeyer, I felt like I was finally meeting a long-lost uncle who had always been a part of my life, though he didn’t know me. My girlfriend Patrícia, who was born in Brasília, came with me to the sitting and thanked Niemeyer for the wonderful city that he had built. His response was that he much preferred living in Rio. “Just take a look out the window,” he said. “The beach, the girls…Brasília stands no chance.”