THE BRAZILIAN ARCHITECT Oscar Niemeyer, one of the leading figures in the development of modern architecture, died last week at the age of 104.
Niemeyer was perhaps best known for his design of civic buildings for Brasília, which became Brazil’s capital in 1960, as well as his collaboration with other architects on the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. His exploration of the aesthetic possibilities of reinforced concrete was highly influential on the architecture of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Over his long career he designed approximately 600 projects.
A lifelong socialist, Niemeyer fled Brazil after the 1964 military coup and subsequently opened an office in the Champs Elysées in Paris from where he left his mark on the city. He designed a job centre in Bobigny in the northeast of Paris and the offices of L’Humanité, the communist party newspaper, in the northern suburb of Saint-Denis. But perhaps he will be best remembered for his design of the national headquarters of the Parti Communiste Français in the Place du Colonel Fabien in the 19th arrondissement.
National Headquarters of the Parti Communiste Français
Constructed between 1967 and 1972, the building has a sinuous glazed façade and concrete support pillars. The upturned white saucer on the forecourt – reminiscent of Niemeyer’s work for the parliament building in Brasilia – is, in fact, the ceiling of the underground central debating chamber of the communist party; probably one of the most breathtaking internal spaces in Europe.
Inside the debating chamber, the walls are all curved and the light is diffused through thousands of steel squares that hang from the ceiling. Niemeyer also designed the furniture including the brown leather chairs all facing the white concrete podium at the front.
The building is surrounded by rather daunting green painted iron railings with only one apparent entrance, a small gate, which can only be opened by using a security code or by requesting permission via the not so efficient intercom system. Interestingly, the concrete architecture in front of the building is designed to hide from view those who do manage to gain entry. Despite being seemingly unwelcoming, the building is, in fact, open to the public – although not on the day that I went.
The inside of the building is quite spectacular but I also rather like the view from the Place du Colonel Fabien. The contrast between the Morris Column and Hector Guimard’s entourage Métro entrance in the foreground set against Neimeyer’s dominating creation appeals to me.
Sounds of the Place du Colonel Fabien recorded outside the HQ of the Parti Communiste Français:
Unlike Niemeyer’s building, the sounds in the street outside are not in the least spectacular but they are what they are, the sounds of that space at a given moment in time and so they are equally important in the cultural history of this place.