Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer died on Wednesday, December 5, at the age of 104. Medical staff at the Hospital Samaritano in Rio de Janeiro, where he was being treated, says he died of a respiratory infection. He would have turned 105 on December 15.
Born Oscar Ribeiro de Almeida Niemeyer Soares Filho in 1907 in Rio de Janeiro, he was one of six children and the son of a typographer. His father owned a graphic arts business and also served as judge on the country’s supreme court. Niemeyer was trained at the National School of Fine Arts, where he drew the attention of its dean, Lucio Costa, who worked to bring Modernist architecture to Brazil. After school, he was hired as a draftsman at Costa’s studio, where he worked with Le Corbusier on the firm’s design for the Ministry of Education and Health building in Rio de Janeiro, and earned a reputation for establishing the aesthetic of Brazil’s capitol. In the U.S., Niemeyer is best known for the United Nations Secretariat Building in New York, which he designed with Le Corbusier and completed in 1952.
Entrenched in the politics of his homeland, Niemeyer was committed to the ideals of Modernism and was a lifelong communist, serving as president of the party in 1992. In the 1960s, his associations with the party challenged his safety and practice in Rio. He fled to Europe where he received commissions to design the Communist Party headquarters in Paris, completed in 1980, and the House of Culture in Le Havre, France, completed in 1982.
His lifetime of honors include the Royal Institute of British Architects Gold Medal and the Pritzker Architecture Prize. His influence permeates popular culture with a Niemeyer collection of Converse sneakers and a Niemeyer line of jewelry by Brazilian jeweler H. Stern, both of which he helped to design.
Niemeyer is survived by his second wife, Vera Lucia Cabreira, whom he married in 2006; four grandchildren; 13 great-grandchildren; and six great-great-grandchildren. He is predeceased by his first wife Annita Baldo, and his daughter Anna Maria Niemeyer.