Don’t believe it when you read that Oscar Niemeyer, the Brazilian architect who died this week only days before he would have turned 105, was the one who took the chill off modernist design with his flamboyantly curving, white thin-shell concrete buildings. That’s the sort of nonsense that gets peddled in obituaries and haigiographies, particularly when a charismatic charmer distorts the historical record to inflate his own contribution, takes credit for the innovations of others, and outlives—by decades!—his competitors.
In the autumn, everybody wonders what’s going to happen next in the arts. This is a natural feeling, a good feeling. Optimism is in the air. But if you’ve already spent your fair share of autumns waiting to see what comes next, you probably cannot avoid the echoes of seasons past, a sense, alternately exhilarating and depressing, that we are always returning to places we’ve been before.
What does a photograph reveal and not reveal about a building? However consequential the question used to be, the Internet has become a seductive digitized world of photo stills and slideshows from which one might infer that actual knowledge—factual information—has been obtained. But buildings are real, indeed, real things that everyone needs and nearly everyone constantly uses. More or less reliably, too, a building stays put, at least until a tsunami hits or, more typically, someone comes along and tears it down.