Concrete Dreams

Brasilia: Oscar Niemeyer's Magnum Opus

Fifty years ago this April, Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, was built from scratch on an empty patch of savannah 500 miles from the coast. The bold, utopian city was envisioned by Rio-born architect Oscar Niemeyer, who has completed over 700 projects in his lifetime and, at 102 years old, continues to work and sketch from his glass penthouse on Copacabana beach. Many of Brasilia's buildings were rendered in concrete, a flexible material that allowed Niemeyer (famously averse to right angles) to create some truly breathtaking, curvaceous shapes, designed to appear as if floating above the ground. The modernist metropolis––now listed as a world UNESCO heritage site––was built in just four years. Niemeyer worked alongside urban planner Lucio Costa, imagining everything from the taxi cabs to the aesthetic of the bus driver’s uniforms. Even the city's shape as viewed from an airplane was taken into consideration—seen from above it resembles a bird spreading its wings across the scorching expanses of the country. These awe-inspiring photographs of the city were taken by Edgar Choueiri, chief scientist and director at Princeton University’s Electric Propulsion and Plasma Dynamics Lab, who was immediately enchanted by Brasilia upon arriving to deliver a talk at its University. Choueiri’s connection to Niemeyer runs deep––he grew up in Tripoli, Lebanon, where Niemeyer’s unfinished structures for the Rachid Karami World Fair have been standing since the 60s. For him, Niemeyer's perfect city represented his childhood dreams of space travel and colonization: "It was almost emotional for me to see his vision in Brasilia. The photographs were a sort of tribute to that connection."

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