Architects’ Sketchbooks: Oscar Niemeyer

Niemeyer emphasized the key elements of the buildings that define his signature style: their striking outlines, designed to create instantly recognizable silhouettes upon the horizon.

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After the vibrant watercolors of Steven Holl, the precisely penciled musings of Le Corbusierand the minimalistic sketches of Tadao Ando, behold the scribbles of the late Brazilian Modernist, Oscar Niemeyer. Like Ando, Niemeyer’s concept drawings included only the bare essentials required to communicate his iconic forms, occasionally combined with the source of their inspiration, particularly the reclined female figure.

Niemeyer emphasized the key elements of the buildings that define his signature style: their striking outlines, designed to create instantly recognizable silhouettes upon the horizon. Often, a smattering of people were included to lend his object-like architecture a sense of scale: In an instant, bowls, vases and flowers were transformed into domes, towers and spires.

Via YouTube

“I remember when I was a kid, about 10 years old,” reflected Niemeyer in an interview published by Motherboard in 2012, the year the architect passed away. “I liked to draw in the air with my fingers. My mother would always ask, ‘Boy, what are you doing?’ I would say, ‘I’m drawing!’ It was as if I could see the drawing, and I could even correct it, if I had to.”

This innate sense of how drawings could be manipulated and developed was with the architect from an early age, and transferred itself to the free flowing style of his sketches through the following century of his life. Keep scrolling to view some of Niemeyer’s idiosyncratic drawings, each of which culminated in a truly iconic example of Modernism.

Contemporary Art Museum, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; via designKULTUR

French Communist Party HQ, Paris, France; via Medium

Façade detail for the Palacio da Alvorada, Brasilia, Brazil; via designKULTUR

Pampulha Church, Belo Horizonte, Brazil; via designKULTUR

National Congress Building, Brasilia, Brazil; via Festival Architettura

A multitude of Niemeyer’s sketches

For more on Oscar Niemeyer, read our in-depth reflection on the architect’s life and works, and to discover more incredible examples of Brazilian Modernism, check out our definitive guide to masterpieces by Niemeyer’s countrymen and -women across the globe here.

Sign up for the next One Drawing Challenge to be informed when the next competition opens for submissions: One Drawing Challenge. Be sure to check out the incredible work by this year’s finalists.

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