It is rare to see great designers follow the rules. It’s even rarer to see some break them. One such architect, who seldom worked by the laws and set out to create his language of sensuous curves and elaborated sculptural buildings was the Brazilian legend and modernism-revolutionary, Oscar Niemeyer. Known for his innovative take on modernism and free-flowing structures, Niemeyer radicalized the existing perceptions of modern architecture and carved a niche for himself among the famous names in architecture.

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National Congress of Brazil by Oscar Niemeyer: Face of Brazilian Architecture - Sheet1
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Oscar Niemeyer’s style is a marriage between Le Corbusier’s take on modernism and romanticized utopia, with a hint of realism imparted by his mentor, Lucio Costa. The resultant line of thought is a fantastic representation of architectural sensationalism subtly translating into buildings and structures. The embodiment of this very philosophy is eminent in various forms designed by Niemeyer. Another prevailing ideology in many of his designs is the enthusiasm associated with a sentiment of national pride.

“I am a Brazilian before I am an architect. I cannot separate the two.”-Oscar Niemeyer.

This very emotion of patriotism that fuelled the essence of this quote has also crafted itself into the architecture proposed by Niemeyer for the capital city of Brazil, Brasilia. The nationalistic identity associated with the city of Brasilia leaped towards modernity and also established itself as a symbol of distinction for Latin America. The significant public spaces in Brasilia serve as expansive places to showcase iconic buildings. 

Relishing its prime location on the Monumental Axis, the National Congress building, with its extraordinary composition and magnificence astounds the viewers at its first glance. Very aptly called the ‘Picasso of Concrete” by The Hindu in one of its articles on the legend, Oscar Niemeyer has invoked unrecognizable senses through his work on the National Congress Building.

A simple look at the structure reveals two majestic towers appearing to be greeting one another as a symbol of solidarity. Upon gradually progressing towards the base of the buildings, the observer notes the existence of a pair of dome-like structures or cupolas. Unlike usual forms, one of the domes is inverted, while the other accepts and surrenders to the usuality. The design looks years ahead of its time and appears to have been conceived in the distant future.

National Congress of Brazil by Oscar Niemeyer: Face of Brazilian Architecture - Sheet2
National Congress ©Shutterstock.com

The usage of design principles to induce drama into the composition, all the while maintaining the visual balance is evident in the facade of the structure. While the two towers mark rectilinearity and verticality, the sharpness of the design is diluted by the introduction of two cupolas. The cupolas, with their sensuous curves, also bring about equilibrium to the overall perception of the plan. The conception of these structures is innately connected with the system of the governing bodies of Brazil. The assembly chambers of Brazil’s bicameral legislature are housed in the two cupolas, while the 27-storeyed towers provide for legislators’ offices and other administrative functions. Niemeyer inverted one of the parabolic domes to create a bowl shape to accommodate the Chamber of Deputies. In addition to the main structural elements, another noticeable feature is the reflective pool, one could witness as the inverted version of the sky-bound composition.

The majestic white ramp leads from a driveway to the building. The ramp further splits into two sections, and one of them opens into the main entrance of the building. The plan is clean and straightforward enough to comprehend. However, an unmistakable revelation was made after scrutinizing the plan. The two central towers have five sides, instead of four, with the inward facades softly pointing towards each other. They are also connected by a three-story bridge on the fourteenth through sixteenth floors.

The captivating use of concrete as a material to generate poetic curves in the structure is brilliance in both construction and composition. The use of concrete is not only restricted to the base and the towers but has also been made to cast the two odd saucer-shaped structures. The efficient use of glass further accentuates the admission of an adequate amount of light into the base of the form. The incorporation of the vertical columns in the base of the structure, interrupting the ribbon of glazed windows reminds one of the uses of the pilotis of the Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier. 

In a nutshell, a masterpiece in architecture, and a wonderfully envisaged philosophy of unison, the National Congress Building of Brasilia, stands tall upholding the values advocated by the state and even so more articulated by its designer. In a bid to unite the two departments, previously separated in Rio de Janeiro (the previous capital), Oscar Niemeyer gifted the city and the world a beautiful synthesis of art, thought, construction, and an unprecedented world of imagination. 

“Here, then, is what I wanted to tell you of my architecture. I created it with courage and idealism, but also with an awareness of the fact that what is important is life, friends and attempting to make this unjust world a better place in which to live.”-Oscar Niemeyer.

Author

Siddhi Hindalkar, currently an architecture student, is a sci-fi junkie. Believing the unbelievable is her secret forte. Not much of a talker, she considers reading and listening to stories as her only means of escape. She likes to believe that a place can narrate a million tales and all one has to do- is lend an ear!

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