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Rio bids final farewell to star architect Niemeyer with national tribute worthy of a head of state
Relatives of Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer attend the funeral at the City Palace in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on December 7, 2012. Niemeyer, the Brazilian icon who revolutionized modern architecture and designed much of the country's futuristic capital Brasilia, died in Rio de Janeiro Wednesday at 104.AFP PHOTO /VANDERLEI ALMEIDA.

By Laura Bonilla and Claire de Oliveira

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP).- Rio bade a last farewell to Brazil's iconic architect Oscar Niemeyer Friday ahead of his burial in his native city whose spectacular landscape inspired his creative genius.

Top officials, relatives, friends and ordinary people thronged City Hall where the star architect, who died Wednesday at the age of 104, lay in state inside a casket draped in the green and yellow Brazilian flag.

It was an emotional affair, but in marked contrast with Thursday's solemn memorial service in the Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, the futuristic capital Niemeyer helped created.

There, President Dilma Rousseff led members of her government, lawmakers, Supreme Court judges and diplomats in a national tribute, worthy of a head of state, to the man whose soaring architecture captured the essence of Brazil.

Inaugurating a Brasilia summit of leaders of the Mercosur regional trade bloc Friday, Rousseff quoted one of Niemeyer's sayings: "We have to dream or things don't happen."

"His works reflected Rio's landscape and curves," renowned Brazilian architect Jaime Lerner told AFP as he left the Rio City Hall.

"Niemeyer was one of the greatest Brazilians of all times. Now I am sure he will redesign the Milky Way," he added.

Pedro Castilho, a 78-year-old engineer, came to bid farewell to a fellow diehard communist he had never met but whom he revered.

"Niemeyer was always a dreamer as I am. He dreamed of ending global poverty, of a better world. He was a great communist," he added.

And 82-year-old Ferreira Gullar could not hold back tears as he paid his last respects and expressed his sympathy to Niemeyer's widow, Vera Lucia Cabrera, seated in front of a dozen flower wreaths.

"There was poetry in his architecture. He introduced not only curves but also lightness," Gullar told reporters, recalling that he wrote a poem titled "Architecture lesson" with Niemeyer in mind.

Ana Maria da Silva, a 62-year-old domestic worker, came with her six-year-old adopted son Richard.

"He was doing a project on Niemeyer in school and wanted to know him. He told me that Niemeyer was dead but I said I would bring him to see him," she added.

Later Friday, the Brazilian icon was to be buried at the Sao Joao Batista cemetery in Rio's Botafogo district.

Thursday, tributes poured in from around the world, including from fellow winners of the Pritzker prize, the Nobel equivalent for architecture, remembering Niemeyer as a colossus in his field and his flare for wavy, curvaceous structures as a source of inspiration and creativity.

Winner of the Pritzker prize in 1988, Niemeyer started his career in the 1930s and went on working well into the 21st century, after turning 100.

His works can be found in countries as far-flung as Algeria, Italy, Israel, the United States and Cuba, whose longtime revolutionary icon Fidel Castro was one of his personal friends.

One of his most spectacular works was a contemporary art museum created in 1996, when he was already 89 years old.

Located in Niteroi, a town near Rio, it includes a structure shaped like an upturned dish, poised over the ocean on rocky cliffs.

Born in Rio into a middle class family of German, Portuguese and Arab ancestry, Niemeyer created some 400 buildings in all, including the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park, London and the Penang State Mosque in Malaysia.

In 1928, he married Annita Baldo. The marriage lasted 76 years until Annita's death in late 2004. Their only daughter, Anna Maria Niemeyer, died of emphysema in 2009 at the age of 82.

At the age of 98, the star architect got married again, this time to Vera Lucia Cabreira, 38 years younger than him.

The jury that awarded Niemeyer the Pritzker prize wrote: "he captured the essence of Brazil with his architecture. His buildings distilled the colors, light and sensual image of his native country."

bur/ga/sg


© 1994-2012 Agence France-Presse

Oscar Niemeyer | Brazil | Jaime Lerner |




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