‘‘If you examine Pampulha, you will feel the freedom of the forms used there,’’ Niemeyer said. ‘‘In the lightness of the exposed structure, you will sense that something new sprang up in Brazilian architecture.’’
In the 1950s, Niemeyer was summoned by President Juscelino Kubitschek to design a new capital on Brazil’s empty central high plains. Costa became the project’s urban planner.
With the slogan of ‘‘50 years in five,’’ Kubitschek hoped to prod Brazil into a great leap forward — and inward, away from the coast.
Niemeyer rose to the challenge, testing new forms and technical limits for reinforced concrete. His cone-shaped Metropolitan Cathedral is a circle of curved concrete pillars set like tepee poles with glass mosaic in between.
‘‘I didn’t want an old-style cathedral — dark, a reminder of sin,’’ he said in an interview in the 1990s. ‘‘I wanted something happier.’’
Perhaps his best-known creation was the National Congress building, designed as two giant white bowls, one facing up and another facing down, with twin 330-foot-tall (100-meter) towers rising between them.
In 1987, UNESCO declared Brasilia a World Heritage Landmark.
‘‘If you pick up the pencil thinking only of the solution, you will draw without an idea. What’s important in architecture is intuition,’’ he said. ‘‘I have my system of work ... based on fantasy, but always feeling logical.’’
After a 1964 coup plunged Brazil into a 21-year military dictatorship, Niemeyer, a lifelong communist, decided to spend more time in Europe than Brazil. While living in France in 1965, he designed the headquarters of the French Communist Party. During the dictatorship he also designed the center of the Mondadori publishing house in Italy, Constantine University in Algeria and other projects in Israel, Lebanon, Germany and Portugal.
He won the Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architecture in 1970, the Pritzker Architecture Prize from Chicago’s Hyatt Foundation in 1988 and the Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1998.
After 1974, Niemeyer turned his attention again to Brazil. In 1984, Rio inaugurated the 60,000-seat Sambadrome he designed for Rio’s annual Carnival parade, and hundreds of graceful concrete public schools based on his prefabricated model.
Although he never liked flying and gradually stopped traveling by air, Niemeyer never ceased working. He also never abandoned his faith in communism, befriending Cuban leader Fidel Castro. His Brasilia monument to Kubitschek, a statue in an elevated curve of stone, was criticized by the military regime for its similarity to the communist hammer-and-sickle.
In a 2006 article for the Brazilian daily Folha de S. Paulo, Niemeyer wrote: ‘‘Life is more important than architecture. ... One day the world will be more just and will take life to a superior stage, no longer limited to governments and dominant classes.’’
Hunched over and walking slowly, he went to his office daily, designing and following his projects by videoconference.
Until the end, he embraced architecture as a humanist endeavor and rejected criticism that his buildings were more enjoyable to look at than to live or work in.
‘‘The architect ... must feel that human beings also are important,’’ he said. ‘‘Because nothing (else) is important. Life lasts but a minute.’’
Associated Press writer Jenny Barchfield and APTN producer Renata Brito contributed to this report.