About his impressive 100th anniversary, architect Oscar Niemeyer is dismissive, saying: "it's a silliness!". The amount of articles, magazines, publications and TV documentaries leave us with little to say; but the life and work of a man who has dedicated 70 years of his life to an architecture that extrapolates the boundaries of shape and fuctionality to invade poetry and humanity can still be a pofuse force of the genius and the person behind and between the lines.
With a sweet and incisive personality, deepened by time and wisdom, the artist's story is intertwined with Brazilian politics, literature, photography and arts in moments that are already known by everyone. And that's what's most touching: the globalized image of a man, his words, beliefs and philosophies, his sense of belonging to life. And that was exactly the key element in the commemorations that have occured on the 15th of December, 2007 in the house he himself projected, in 1952, in Estrada das Canoas, Rio de Janeiro. He granted an interview, was defied by the press and smoked cigars. He didn't blow his 100 candles because he found the cake to be the shape of a MAC. In a stroke of modesty he said he was just a regular person: "I don't know why I've lasted so long", but then he completed it by boasting: "one hundred and ten is easy!".
Lacking the right words and fearing I might become repetitive, I've selected a few chunks of a meeting set up by Bravo! magazine, in 1997 between him and poets Ferreira Gullar and Bruno Tolentino, around the architect's office and between a lot of smoke and caffeine.
Gullar: That photo of Luis Carlos Prestes, over your table, from 1935, is from the time of the Communist rebellion.
Tolentino: He has a lyrical look, hollywoodesque...
Niemeyer: Yes, he had just been punched in the face. As soon as he left with a cane! (laughter)
Tolentino: I wish you'd talk about the relationships between the various art forms.
Niemeyer: I have just finished the Memorial da Coluna Prestes... (hands over the drawing). I'd like to incorporate a statue of Prestes, who was a fragile man, in it, but the sculptor gave me this huge guy! I have always liked to mix arts together, like in Renaissance. In the Pampulha project, I called in (Cândido) Portinari, (Alfredo) Ceschiatti, ... Juscelino, Belo Horizonte's Prefect, was already like those princes in Renaissance. Had he had more time in Brasília, he would've had some frescoes painted in everything, and I would've stood behind him...
Gullar: But it's architecture's purity's fault. Modernity has had a tendency to exclude it. Apparently, what's beautiful is a pure wall, alone...
Niemeyer: And it is! But I love painted walls, ceilings with frescoes...
Gullar: (...) When you started out, at that time, how was Brazilian architecture going, what was happening?
Niemeyer: There were a few groups, three or four, I'm not sure, that were already working in the basis of those influences... with the influence of Corbusier. We took it all very seriously, like a catechism. But we hadn't felt the "essence" of his work yet. In my case, his true influence came from talking to him... When he told me that "Architecture is invention!". That word... well... It was something very important for me.
Gullar: How does one get inspiration for a project like this? [they are talking about the draft for the Niterói Cathedral]
Niemeyer: I get informed about the programme, the place, the budget. From that point on, I let the idea look for the invention. Then, from one drawing to another... The fantastic is simple. When I've drawn enough to shape the project, I start putting it in writing; if I hit a snag while trying to explain what I've created, then something is missing and I go back to the drawing.
Gullar: So, is it while you're writing it down that you understand what you've done? Is language that important?
Niemeyer: Everything is language... In the Niterói Museum, for example, it spoke for itself: a promontory, a small budget, everything said: simplicity... I made a white mushroom surrounded by a lake and with the sea below...
(Niemeyer gets a piece of paper from a drawer and hesitates...) It's very bold of me to show this to two poets. It isn't poetry or anything, guys, it's some silliness I wrote down in Algeria... (Gullar Confiscates the piece of paper from his hands and reads it out loud)
Gullar: I am far away from everything,
from everything I love,
from the beautiful country
where I was born.
One day I'll get burnt,
and I'll hop on the road,
it's there in Brazil
that I want to live;
everyone in their corner,
each one under their roof
playing with friends,
watching time go by.
I want to look at the stars,
I want to feel life,
it's there in Brazil
that I want to live.
I'm sick of life
(this flu won't heal!)
of hearing so much silliness,
I can't help myself.
One day I'll get burnt
and let go of everything,
this doesn't suit me,
it doesn't suit me at all,
my decision is final,
no one can stop me.
To hell with work
and this shitty world,
it's in Brazil
I want to live!
Gullar: Exile is this: I'm here, but where I really belong is there, a person explodes!
Tolentino: Now Niemeyer turns out with a poem! (...) And what does seizing life means to you?
Niemeyer: It's the opposite of selfishness. It's Cuba, the risk, the dream... Selfishness kills, it belittles you. It impoverishes everything. It's true poverty. Humans are born and die, everything is begun and ended. The boring part is not knowing how it will end...