7 Dec 2012

Death of landmark architect

9:50 am on 7 December 2012

Architect Oscar Niemeyer who shaped the look of contemporary Brazil, died late on Wednesday. His designs left their mark on cities worldwide.

Niemeyer, 104, had been in hospital in hospital in Rio de Janeiro since early November. The hospital said his death was the result of a lung infection that developed this week.

His body will lie in state at the presidential palace, one of the landmark buildings he designed for the modernist capital city of Brasilia.

President Dilma Rousseff said Niemeyer was "a revolutionary, the mentor of a new architecture, beautiful, logical, and, as he himself defined it, inventive."

Niemeyer's career spanned nine decades starting in the 1930s.

His distinctive glass and white-concrete buildings include such landmarks as the UN Secretariat in New York, the Communist Party headquarters in Paris and the Catholic cathedral in Brasilia.

He won the 1988 Pritzker Architecture Prize, considered the "Nobel Prize of Architecture" for the Brasilia cathedral.

Its "Crown of Thorns" cupola fills the church with light and a sense of soaring grandeur even though most of the building is underground.

Niemeyer designed nearly every important government building in Brasilia, a city that helped define "space-age" style.

Built from scratch in a wild and nearly uninhabited part of Brazil's remote central plateau in just four years, it opened in 1960.

After flying over the city in 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, said "the impression was like arriving on another planet."

One of Niemeyer's first significant early works was a church built in homage to St. Francis in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

That work won the confidence of Mayor Juscelino Kubitschek. When he became president, he tapped Niemeyer to help open Brazil's interior by moving the capital from coastal Rio to the empty plains of central Brazil.