The Cathedral of Brasilia is a crown-like structure that appears pinned to the ground, designed by the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, born on December 15, 1907, and is well known for designing numerous civic buildings in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil.
Niemeyer was supposed to design the new capital of Brazil after the president was elected in 1958. Niemeyer organized a competition in which his old friend Lucio Costa won and so he was assigned to prepare the layout for Brasilia, the new capital, and Oscar would design the important buildings.
The actual aesthetic concept of this hyperbolic structure is to make an impression of both hands pointing towards the sky, backed by the fact that Niemeyer envisioned this volume as a form of deep religious expression and purity from every perspective. Some people view it as the crown of Lord Jesus.
In the beginning, it was supposed to be an all-embracing Temple but later was designed as the cathedral of the capital city of a catholic country. It is a building of conceptual representations with metaphors of religious ideologies. Niemeyer himself was an atheist but believed that the buildings should reflect people’s beliefs. There is an emphasis on creating a clean, untainted, unified volume that portrays an ultimate expression from 360 degrees.
The interior of the church is rather large and the ceiling tapers up towards the sky which leads the eye upward toward the gorgeous glasswork and hanging statues. In contrast to the typical dark cathedrals that remind us of sins, Oscar designed a dark entrance and gallery that leads visitors to a bright well-lit nave with stained glass windows facing infinite space. The nave stained fiberglass ceiling begins at the ground level and is in colors of blue, white, and brown. It’s fixed between 16 concrete columns, in triangles of 10 m of the base, and 30 m in height. These columns that weigh 90 tons each are the hyperbolic structures that impart the cathedral it’s most salient feature.
The foundation stone of the cathedral was laid in 1958 but the mainframe structure was completed two years later in 1960. The construction experienced many obstacles, as did many other projects that came to a halt in Brasilia during this time. To get things moving, the cathedral was handed over to the catholic church, although it was previously imagined to be an ecumenical temple. The cathedral was consecrated in 1968, albeit without a roof, and finally opened to the public in 1970.
The building has a bell tower housing four bells donated by Spain. The exterior of the church is flanked by four evangelists, each 3-meter-high, figuratively guarding the cathedral. At the entrance is a pillar with passages from the life of mother Mary. A 12-meter wide, 40- centimeters deep reflecting pool surrounds the cathedral, helping it to cool down. Visitors pass under this pool while entering the cathedral underground through a dark entrance. The baptistry is to the left of the entrance and can be entered either from the cathedral or a spiral staircase at the entrance plaza. The walls of the oval baptistery are covered in hand-painted ceramic tiles. Under the main altar is a small chapel accessible by steps on all sides of the altar. It is a circular plan about 70 meters in diameter that can house about four thousand devotees at a time.
The carefully designed stained glass roof and the underground and above ground designed sections take care of the daylighting whereas magnificent illumination arrangements magnify the beauty of night view from the outside. The interiors are closed to the public during the night.
The Cathedral of Brasília is the Roman Catholic cathedral serving Brasilia, and also as the seat of the Archdiocese of Brasília. The Cathedral is open for public visits every day, except during Mass. Mass times are: from Tuesday to Friday at 12:15 p.m. and 6:15 p.m.; Saturday at 5:00 p.m.; Sunday at 8:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. This place hosts a whopping 1 million visitors every year on average most of which are tourists.
Architect Oscar Niemeyer died on December 5, 2012, in a hospital in Rio de Janeiro. He was 10 days away from his 105th birthday.
His BBC obituary quoted the following: “Rejecting the cube shapes favored by his modernist predecessors, Niemeyer built some of the world’s most striking buildings – monumental, curving concrete and glass structures which almost defy description.” The Cathedral of Brasilia, in substance.