The enigmatic, eccentric Oscar Niemeyer has got to be one of my favourite architects. Notorious for a fear of flying (he would bus, train, taxi and boat everywhere) and for pushing the boundaries of building designs in a way which has health and safety in apoplectic fits, Niemeyer is an icon. He has been dubbed, "the king of the curve" because all his designs delight in a capricious use of curves, supposedly in appreciation of the female body. And not just for the huge arch at the end of Rio's carnival stadium, the Sambadrome, for which he is probably most famous and to which I myself am most closely connected (that's a story for another day...)
Exciting to see, then, that one of his final works, sketched at 103 years old, one year before his death in 2012, will be brought to life on top of the factory of Kirow Werk in Leipzig. It looks, in a word, awe-inspiring.
I first came across his work, unsurprisingly, in his home country of Brazil. The curvaceous and top-heavy Niterói Contemporary Art Museum in Rio de Janeiro is a daring metaphor for a flower in a lake, but it is the buildings he designed in Brazil's capital, Brasilia, which really captured my imagination. The National Congress buildings with their stark, futuristic outlines at the foot Brasilia's main avenue are incredible. And the Roman Catholic Cathedral is quite simply not of this world, with seemingly not a straight line in sight. It is an alien silhouette that looks like someone has pinched together the struts of a gigantic wigwam tent at the top. There is a little trick you can play inside, where if you put your face up to the curved wall that circles the interior, and someone else goes over to the same wall on the opposite side about 15m away, you can hold a conversation just by whispering. The sound travels flawlessly all along the wall - a deliberate architectural feature that shows just how human and organic Niemeyer's thinking was.
Three weeks after a meeting in the architect’s native Rio de Janeiro, Niemeyer had sketched a first draft. The design, a sphere made of reinforced concrete and glass, has a diameter of 12 meters (about 40 feet), and the exterior consists of a lattice pattern. The interior has space for a cafe with a lounge and bar.