“For me, beauty is valued more than anything- the beauty that is manifest in a curved line or in an act of creativity.” – Oscar Niemeyer
A philosopher and a modernist architect who bent the bounds of linearity to create an atmosphere of celebration for the natural curves of beauty that one manifests in different forms. Oscar Niemeyer created truly state-of-the-art beauty with his innate style of architecture- white concrete, graceful curves, and primary color accents. Under the wing of the esteemed Le Corbusier, Niemeyer stumbled upon the hard-edged European style of modernism, however, the lack of that hint of elegance and culture apt led him to create a visionary stand in the architecture field.
He is perhaps celebrated for his first take on a regional expansion of modernism that celebrates the Brazilian-infused Modernism. His style mostly was a coalescence of the Brazilian picturesque, the ethereal curves of femininity, and his inclination to politics. His demeanor towards the field of design wasn’t just about the community, it was the sense of romanticism towards what one could envision about nature and feminism the most and then translate it to a built urban fabric.
The French Communist Party Headquarters, Paris
The very first infamous introduction of Oscar Niemeyer to the European community was by the Communist Headquarters built for the French Communist Party in Paris. Built between the years 1967-1980, the design was the epitome of expressing the innate relationship between architecture and politics. Influenced by the ‘concrete’ fabric design module created by Le Corbusier himself Niemeyer introduced the European world to a fusion of a feministic approach to modernism.
The building itself speaks about the whirlwind of stories that Niemeyer induced himself politically, that finally led him to Paris where he would be introduced as the designer of the French Communist Party Headquarters.
The ideology for the building originated from the idea to let the building ‘breathe’ into the urbanscape. The design creates an atmosphere of a graceful mass of concrete within the urban fabric styled in a typical neighborhood of urbanization, Haussmannian style.
Design Philosophy and Intent
Facing the Place du Colonel Fabien, flanked by Avenue Mathurin Moreau and Boulevard de la Villette on either side, the sloping Site itself was divided into three contrasting the sharp existing urban pattern. The first part covers the base- two floors below street level for garages and other services and the ground floor that is reduced to five feet on public roads. As the ground floor is open-ended, spaces are visible only through the experience of the interior making the building flow seamlessly.
The second part points towards the Chamber of Deputies with the similarity drawn to the power figure in Brazil- the Three Powers Square, Brasilia, where the dome of the auditorium meets the central committee and the white structure stands on the square space. The third which is the six-story tower creates a continuity of the urban fabric by its undulating graceful form and frames the plaza. The striking domes highlight the combination of various volumes.
“The prevailing idea was to manifest not only the plastic freedom of my architecture but also the advancements in engineering in Brazil,” Niemeyer wrote.
The design was to create a balance between the built environment and the user; to create a sense of continuity between the culture and environment. Niemeyer created the right understatement to the area and volume thus striking that visual balance in an urban cover.
The plaza cites as a meeting conjecture, “the great hall of the working class” with an auditorium, exhibition hall, and library. The tower on the other hand forces the verticality within the site. Resting on five pillars as support showcases the lightness it ensembles to the design. Internally has vertical circulation annexes, while the floors consist mainly of offices the last is dedicated to a restaurant.
The strategy of a half-buried auditorium is representative of the design Niemeyer created in Brasilia Cathedral. The concrete dome has a tapered base and spherical cap with a height reaching up to 11 meters. The overall design undoubtedly speaks of Niemeyer’s style of design.
The astoundingly heavy design still feels lightweight as to the entirety of the building because of the seamless curved form jutting in the urban fabric.
“It was the whole, or rather, was the relationship between volumes and open spaces, so often forgotten, which I respected.” – Oscar Niemeyer
“In the French Communist Party Headquarters, I demonstrated the importance of maintaining harmony between volumes and spaces on the exterior, which explains why the great workers’ hall is located underground,” Niemeyer spoke. (Pavka)
The design encompassed blocks of offices coupled with vertical circulation along the public platform below grade to create the sense to flow. The curving six-story building carefully supported by columns bear the structural weight of the cantilevered plates and the service ducts as well that is covered by the PVC tiles. The interior follows a similar concept where the office is yet an expandable space that is separated by demountable partitions to volumize the space to the maximum. The main spiral staircase leads to the expansive main dining room on the last floor overlooking the city.
Creating the Modernistic Approach to the Curved Structure
The structure is enveloped by a tinted glass curtain wall designed by the French Industrial designer Jean Prouve. The concept of creating a futuristic concrete shaded building became a single piece of recognition that changed the entire outlook on the area in Paris. The glass façade with anti-solar external leafing creates the rhythmic enhancement horizontally as well. The design was thought in terms of heating and cooling as well with the provision of operable tinted glass panels.
As the site slopes down to meet the tower the pavement turns into a ramp that deliberately guides the people to the sunken entrance enhancing the terrain and the tower juncture. White floating canopy projects from the sweeping block to frame the entrance.
The Juncture of Spaces Connecting the Interior to Exterior
The vertical block creates an enclosed yet open space underneath that encompasses the exhibition spaces, a reception hall, lounge, bookshop, multiple conference rooms, and 450 seater auditorium. The design was to create a hidden palindrome for the ideology, hence only a part of the white dome is visibly set off against the glassy façade.
The creation of visible green carpeting was representative of the natural site conditions while the interior specifically is seen to have the tone of Niemeyer’s curving features used. The auditorium itself consists of only a glazed strip surrounding the conical walls providing the only source to natural lighting.
The design itself speaks of Niemeyer’s relation with politics and femininity. The building infuses the hard-hitting concrete with subtlety and mystery. The interior is an extension of the building itself, the meeting rooms are inched with the same curvy desk with the seaters being Niemeyer’s creation. Neimeyer went to great lengths to create that blind look of openness between the inside and the outside with every possible detail.
The plaza created was to represent the existing terrain and retain the essence of the site itself. Paris is a ‘luxurious’ city, this structure barricades itself from the monotony of the designed frame. Just as the design was so ambitious the construction itself was done in two parts, the first consisting of the tower and part of the plan hall and basement while the second being the envelope of the structures.
Oscar Niemeyer brought his distinctive style of fusion of modernism and the cultures of Brasilia to the city of lights, Paris that now has become a treasured national heritage. Despite the capitalistic overall look, the building itself is still used by photographers, models for their purposeful needs. As history says even if the dutiful purpose fails only the ethereal beauty still stands; the design just so speaks to that.