Oscar Niemeyer understood biophilia the way the body reads it and needs it. I proclaim him an architect of longevity, joyful longevity: Earth’s version of biophilia, vitality and biomimicry. Or as George Burns would say, whether you had the chance to ask him or not:
“If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress and tension. And if you didn’t ask me, I’d still have to say it.” George Burns
Niemeyer died at the age of 104 on Dec 5, 2012 just 10 days shy of 105 in his beloved Brazil. Is perhaps his design aesthetic responsible for a long life? I would say it is definitely one of the factors.
Today’s “golden boy” beloved style (modern) is the opposite of what the body requires from spaces. With its origins in International Style of the 1920’s and 30’s, the Bauhaus School, was like the early 20th Century version of Ikea. Bauhaus devoted itself to a type of design that would bring Art into the daily life to the masses, with architecture and furniture that could be easily mass produced in factories. Great idea, but the straight line became king, as it was easily manufactured.
Niemeyer’s contemporaries, those from the Bauhaus, greats like Marcel Breuer, Walter Gropius, LeCorbusier, Bayer, Behrens, colorists like Mondrian, Albers and textile designers like Annie Albers, and others were creating an aesthetic – International Style. Using new-to-the-day technology of steel and cantilevering, that style has survived to present day in our “modern” design aesthetic. Stunning (do you want to be stunned?) structures, lines and forms intersecting, open floor plans, cavernous structures of steel, glass, metal.
Today’s modern style originated in the 1920’s and 30’s as International Design, from the Bauhaus in Germany. With its straight lines and block forms, it is stripped of applied ornamentation. This style employed new-to-the-day technology: cantilever construction made possible by spans of steel, allowing ceilings and roofs to span greater widths and offer an open interior space and a visual weightlessness. Frank Lloyd Wright employed this in Falling Water and many other of his designs.
Our modern style, the descendent of International Style and the Bauhaus, is lauded for its beauty. At first glance it is clean and definitely a stunning surprise, the very thing that creates a mind shift and memory. Upon further investigation, living or working in these spaces creates the body to be stressed, slowly choking our ability to thrive.
To thrive with nature, we must entertain a different mindset, one of softness that most fear will lead to sloth and perhaps worse, the world slowing down and re-evaluating our current production paradigm. (Hm, seems like we might be doing that now.)
However, this design stresses the body, which reads straight lines, straight angles, and sharp edges as dangerous, sending our physiology into Fight, Flight or Freeze mode. When around these shapes the body maintains low-level stress. Low-level stress is a killer.
Curves of Nature restore the body to its natural state of relax, restore, nourish and create. It’s physiology, it’s Nature, it’s the connection between space and body, one influencing the other always.
“I am not attracted to straight angles or to the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man. I am attracted to free-flowing, sensual curves. The curves that I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean, and on the body of the beloved woman. Curves make up the entire Universe, the curved Universe of Einstein.”*
This is the power of design. How do we design to restore the body to allow it to connect to its natural state of wholeness?
In 1951, Oscar Niemeyer design Das Canoas House as a family residence. It is open to tourism and gives visitors to Brazil a fixed way of looking into Niemeyer’s concepts of design. (above and below)
Come join me, we will look at how to make shifts in the design of our spaces, even those already created, to nourish life.
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*Niemeyer, Oscar (2000). The Curves of Time: The Memoirs of Oscar Niemeyer. London: Phaidon. ISBN 0714840076., p. 62, 169, 170