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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

The architect Oscar Niemeyer has been called a dreamer. More than 50 years ago, he was already famous for helping to build the United Nations. Then he took on a project of epic proportions: designing the monumental buildings in a new capital, Brasilia. Today, Oscar Niemeyer is nearly 103 years old and still working.

NPR's Juan Forero paid him a visit in Rio de Janiero.

JUAN FORERO: His eyesight is faltering. He shuttled from one place to another in a wheelchair. And Oscar Niemeyer's hands shake ever so slightly. The hands that architecture critics say created marvelous, inspiring buildings from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. But Niemeyer's mind is lucid. And so he remembers what it was like in 1956, when Brasilia was on the drawing board.

Mr. OSCAR NIEMEYER (Architect): (Speaking foreign language)

FORERO: Niemeyer says he went with President Juscelino Kubitschek to Brazil's vast, dry savanna, the so-called Cerrado, and thinking it was too far away, too empty. But Kubitschek, Niemeyer recalls, wanted to build no matter what. And so in four years, Brasilia was built from scratch, Niemeyer designing its audacious buildings. The foreign ministry with its slender arches rising from reflecting pools; the Cathedral shaped like a giant orchid; the National Congress, with its two bowl-like structures, one up-turned, the other dome-like. These and others are all considered modernist masterpieces that capture the meaning of Brasilia: a new city, unburdened by history.

Mr. NIEMEYER: (Speaking foreign language)

FORERO: Architecture is invention, Niemeyer says, and we wanted to do it differently in Brasilia. He didn't just want buildings that worked, but to create a different kind of architecture.

(Soundbite of bells)

FORERO: One of the most recognizable of Niemeyer's buildings is the cathedral in Brasilia. It's right on the esplanade, where the architect's greatest buildings are symmetrically arranged.

Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)

FORERO: Just after a midnight mass, Eduardo Rossetti, an architect who works for the government preservation board, talks about the church's dimensions. The 16 columns reaching to the sky; the nave filled with light.

Mr. EDUARDO ROSSETTI (Architect): The wide open space opens to your eyes, the lights become very exciting, we have the colorful vitral. It's a little Baroque somehow because you have several stimulations.

FORERO: Rossetti walks into the lovely Itamaraty Palace, the foreign ministry. Just inside the entrance, the ceiling feels low. Then, Rossetti heads to a wide, circular staircase.

Mr. ROSSETTI: Feel the changing of scale, and suddenly, what Niemeyer does, he opens up all the space not only in this dimension, but also this way.

FORERO: With its domes, curves, broad ramps and big windows, the buildings Niemeyer designed make Brasilia look fresh, even futuristic. But some critics say it's a city too dependent on the car and that its buildings seem cut-off from the people. They go so far as to say it lacks a soul.

In his studio in Rio de Janeiro, Niemeyer doesn't dwell too much on the debate. He instead wants to talk about how his buildings turned out, and he brings up Le Corbusier, the Swiss architectural genius who inspired Niemeyer.

Mr. NIEMEYER: (Speaking foreign language)

FORERO: When Corbusier walked up the ramp to Congress, Niemeyer recounts, he stopped and said, there's invention here. There was no greater praise, Niemeyer says. He explains his goal had been to build works of beauty that astonished those who saw them. The vital component for his work, Niemeyer says, is concrete. With it, he broke what he calls the tyranny of the right angle -hence the curves in many of his structures. Niemeyer is still in love with the curve. In fact, you can see plenty of them in his latest big project - a cultural center in Spain that's about to be inaugurated.

Mr. NIEMEYER: (Speaking foreign language)

FORERO: When I start to design, he says, I have only a vague idea about what I'd like to do. He says he doesn't think about any other building he's built before: He simply starts from scratch.

Juan Forero, NPR News.

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