A tribute to Oscar Niemeyer at the United Nations, New York

A tribute to Oscar Niemeyer at the United Nations, New York

The wonderful Oscar Niemeyer is at the centre of another tribute, this time for his work on the United Nations headquarters in New York City. Organised by the Mission of Brazil to the UN and our personal bastion of Brazilian culture, Espasso, Niemeyer’s drawings took centre stage during a ceremony last week at the Secretariat Building that he helped design. The drawings are part of the original archives of Fundação Oscar Niemeyer and currently nominated to be included in the international registry of UNESCO’s MOW (Memory of the World) cultural preservation program.

At the opening of the exhibition, delegates and dignitaries, including the the President of the United Nations General Assembly, Vuk Jeremic, and the UN’s Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, paid sincere tribute to Niemeyer by putting into context the task that the 10 architects, known as the UN Board of Design, faced back in 1947.

Over an intense four-month period, the Board of Design considered over fifty plans for the United Nations - an organisation that Niemeyer once said ‘sets the nations of the world in a common direction and gives to the world a sense of security.’ Niemeyer was the youngest of the group.

Jeremic said, ’In memory of the life of the last design board member who passed away, we pay tribute to them all. [They] attempt[ed] to translate the hopes and ideals of the fledgling international organisation into an architectural landmark. Lacking a common spoken language, they communicated not with words but through sketches and plans that they exchanged with one another.’

In his address, Ban Ki-Moon continued, ’Our architects were ahead of the times. I hope we will follow their example and stay at the vanguard when it comes to solving global problems.’

In his keynote address, the esteemed architecture critic Paul Goldberger paid tribute to ’the last surviving member of a group that gave the United Nations its form; a form that was consciously intended to symbolise the new world [that] the 20th century was making, and to create the architectural equivalent of the new political world that the UN organization sought to bring into being.’

The commemorative tribute comes weeks before the renovation of the General Assembly Hall, a place where world leaders have congregated for over six decades. The buildings have come to represent equality, mutual respect, security and peace – values that are even rare finds in the most elevated forms of architecture. To sum up the significance of the buildings, Jeremic used the words of Wallace K. Harrison, the director of planning when they were unveiled: ’I feel like we have built not a symbol of peace, but the workshop for peace.’

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