Oscar Niemeyer, New Cities, and the future of Global Aging

There seem to be a plethora of new capitals emerging around the globe. South Sudan is planning a new

bangkok at night, courtesy of Sura Nualpradid at freedigitalphotos.net

capital in Ramciel, even as it suffers from ethnic conflict, and the myriad challenges of creating a new state. In 2005 Myanmar (Burma) created a new capital called Naypidaw, which already has nearly a million people. Although there are many explanations for the rationale behind the move (one involving an astrologer) the most likely was that this was intended to increase the military’s control. In 1997 Kazahkstan moved its capital to Astana, 600 miles away on the steppe, although few besides President Nazarbayev were enthusiastic about the idea. Angola, now one of the world’s fastest growing economies, faces problems with its capital, Luanda, which is the most expensive city in the world. As Africa’s largest oil exporter, it also has the resources to fund dreams, one of which has been the idea of creating a new capital.

While it is not clear that this project will move forward, the government has been debating the construction of “New Luanda,” a city of two million people. And who do you go to when you want to build such a city? Oscar Niemeyer. Last month Niemeyer turned 104. But that hasn’t stopped him from continuing an active architectural life. Niemeyer was the main architect for the city of Brasilia, which became Brazil’s capital in 1960. Perhaps for this reason, in 2007 the government of Angola invited Niemeyer to help them design buildings for a new capital. Niemeyer, who now lives in Rio de Janeiro, reportedly replied that he would not travel, but that he’d be happy to look at any sketches and designs so as to give input. This project does not seem to be moving forward. But he has been active in a host of other projects.

According to an article in the Sunday times, at 104 Niemeyer is designing a new theater in Flamengo Park in Rio de Janeiro (I know it well, and it is a great location for this use).  He designed the new building for Brazil’s electoral authority in Brasilia, which just opened. And according to the article, the Niemeyer Cultural Center opened in 2011 in Aviles, Spain. It’s already closed for financial reasons, a sad statement about Europe’s current state, but no reflection on Niemeyer.

The world is currently going through a demographic transition. Nations such as Russia, Japan, much of Europe and Taiwan have fertility rates well below replacement, and a rapidly aging population. As anyone who has read the columnist Spengler in the Asia Times knows (for a taste of his style, see Italy’s Future, a Theme Park), there is a great deal of pessimism about the future of these nations as their populations grey. In the circumstance, it’s good to remember the example of Oscar Niemeyer, and the potential that the elderly embody.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University


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