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A Look At Brazil's Big Dreamer, Architect Oscar Niemeyer

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    One of Oscar Niemeyer's earliest projects, built in the early 1940s, came to be known as the "Pampulha architectural complex." It was commissioned by Juscelino Kubitschek, who would later become president of Brazil. At the time, he was mayor of Belo Horizonte. The complex included a church, which was initially refused for consecration by the Roman Catholic Church.
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    By the late 1950s, Kubitschek was president of Brazil, and he invited Niemeyer to design many of the civic buildings in the country's new capital of Brasilia, including the Palacio da Alvorada, the official residence of Brazilian presidents, pictured here in 2006.
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    A church, pictured circa 1955 on the grounds of the presidential palace, is connected to the palace by an underground hallway.
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    The Oscar Niemeyer Museum, inaugurated in 2002, the largest museum in Latin America, is in Curitiba, the capital of the state of Parana, Brazil. Curitiba, considered an outstanding example of urban planning worldwide and the ecological capital of Brazil, was chosen as one of the 12 host cities for the 2014 soccer World Cup.
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    Brasilia Cathedral was inaugurated by President Juscelino Kubitschek in 1960.
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    The interior of Brasilia Cathedral.
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    The National Congress building in Brasilia.
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    The Federal Supreme Court in Brasilia.
    Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images
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    Brasilia's National Museum, inaugurated in 1960.
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    Construction for the headquarters of the French Communist Party began in the late 1960s.
    Christophe Ena/AP
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    "The Volcano" at Le Havre Cultural Center, France, built in 1982.
    Mychele Daniau/AFP
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    The Niteroi Museum of Contemporary Art near Rio de Janeiro, built in 1991.
    Vanderlei Almeida/AFP/Getty Images
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    Oscar Niemeyer International Cultural Center of Asturias, Spain, built in 2006.
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    Auditorium Oscar Niemeyer in Ravello, Italy, on the day of its inauguration.
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    A pianist at Auditorium Oscar Niemeyer in Ravello on the day of its official inauguration in 2009, with Italy's Amalfi coast in the background.
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    The inauguration of the Oscar Niemeyer foundation building in Niteroi, Brazil, 2010.
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    Part of Niemeyer's foundation building in Niteroi, Brazil, 2010.
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There are a number of ways to leave a legacy. Some people have kids. Some become president. Or you can build unforgettable buildings that define the landscape.

Throughout his 104 years, architect Oscar Niemeyer defied the rules and even cheated death for a long while, working well into his last years. He died Wednesday of a respiratory infection and received a fitting tribute in this obituary in The New York Times.

Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer looks at drawings for a project of two cities in Senegal, Africa, in his office in Rio de Janeiro, 1992.

Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer looks at drawings for a project of two cities in Senegal, Africa, in his office in Rio de Janeiro, 1992. Antonio Scorza/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Antonio Scorza/AFP/Getty Images

Design was in Niemeyer's blood. He was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1907 to a graphic artist, his father.

After working with the legendary Swiss architect Le Corbusier, the commissions flowed.

Niemeyer's biggest task, starting in 1956, was effectively to design Brasilia from the ground up when it was chosen as Brazil's new capital in the country's interior. He was the chief architect responsible for many public buildings — a unique opportunity to determine the look and feel of an entire city in just a few years.

He broke all of the molds, lived and breathed outside the proverbial box and eschewed the expectations he had inherited. Politically, he was aligned with the far left, which complicated his career at times, especially during years of military dictatorship in Brazil and during the Cold War.

Philosophically, Niemeyer defied the axiom of contemporary modernists that "form follows function."

As Niemeyer put it: "Form follows beauty."

In a 2005 interview in the New York Times Magazine, Niemeyer said, "The ultimate task of the architect is to dream. Otherwise nothing happens."

And in Niemeyer's dreams, beauty was found in curved lines. Creativity flows from bending the straight lines of authority. Those ideas, in addition to his buildings and sculptures, are Niemeyer's legacy.

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