UPDATE 3-Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer dies, aged 104

* Renowned for designing Brazil's futuristic capital

* Ardent communist; he designed UN building in New York

* Winner of 1988 Pritzker Prize, architecture's "Nobel"

RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec 5 (Reuters) - Oscar Niemeyer, a towering

patriarch of modern architecture who shaped the look of

contemporary Brazil and whose inventive, curved designs left

their mark on cities worldwide, died late on Wednesday. He was

104.

Niemeyer had been battling kidney and stomach ailments in a

Rio de Janeiro hospital since early November. His death was the

result of a lung infection developed this week, the hospital

said, little more than a week before he would have turned 105.

President Dilma Rousseff, whose office sits among the

landmark buildings Niemeyer designed for the modernist capital

city of Brasilia, paid tribute by calling him "a revolutionary,

the mentor of a new architecture, beautiful, logical, and, as he

himself defined it, inventive."

His body will lie in state at the presidential palace.

Starting in the 1930s, Niemeyer's career spanned nine

decades. His distinctive glass and white-concrete buildings

include such landmarks as the U.N. Secretariat in New York, the

Communist Party headquarters in Paris and the Roman Catholic

Cathedral in Brasilia.

He won the 1988 Pritzker Architecture Prize, considered the

"Nobel Prize of Architecture" for the Brasilia cathedral. Its

"Crown of Thorns" cupola fills the church with light and a sense

of soaring grandeur even though most of the building is

underground.

It was one of dozens of public structures he designed for

Brazil's made-to-order capital, a city that helped define

"space-age" style.

After flying over Niemeyer's pod-like Congress, futuristic

presidential palace and modular ministries in 1961, Yuri

Gagarin, the Russian cosmonaut and first man in space, said "the

impression was like arriving on another planet."

In his home city of Rio de Janeiro, Niemeyer's many projects

include the "Sambadrome" stadium for Carnival parades. Perched

across the bay from Rio is the "flying saucer" he designed for

the Niteroi Museum of Contemporary Art.

The collection of government buildings in Brasilia, though,

remain his most monumental and enduring achievement. Built from

scratch in a wild and nearly uninhabited part of Brazil's remote

central plateau in just four years, it opened in 1960.

While the airplane-shaped city was planned and laid out by

Niemeyer's friend Lucio Costa, Niemeyer designed nearly every

important government building in the city.

NATIONAL ICON

An ardent communist who continued working from his

Copacabana beach penthouse apartment in Rio until days before

his death, Niemeyer became a national icon ranking alongside

Bossa Nova pioneer Tom Jobim and soccer legend Pelé.

His architecture, though, regularly trumped his politics.

Georges Pompidou, a right-wing Gaullist former French

president, said Niemeyer's design for the Communist Party of

France headquarters in Paris "was the only good thing those

commies ever did," according to Niemeyer's memoirs.

Prada, the fashion company known for providing expensive

bags and wallets, thought the Communist Party building in Paris

so cool it rented it for a fashion show.

Even the 1964-1985 Brazilian military government that forced

Niemeyer into exile in the 1960s eventually found his buildings

congenial to its dreams of making Brazil "the country of the

future."

His work is celebrated for innovative use of light and

space, experimentation with reinforced concrete for aesthetic

value and his self-described "architectural invention" style

that produced buildings resembling abstract sculpture.

Initially influenced by the angular modernism of

French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier, who worked with Niemeyer

and Costa on a visit to Brazil in the 1930s, his style evolved

toward rounded buildings that he said were inspired by the

curves of Rio's sunbathing women as well as beaches and verdant

hills.

"That is the architecture I do, looking for new, different

forms. Surprise is key in all art," Niemeyer told Reuters in an

interview in 2006. "The artistic capability of reinforced

concrete is so fantastic - that is the way to go."

Responding to criticism that his work was impractical and

overly artistic, Niemeyer dismissed the idea that buildings'

design should reflect their function as a "ridiculous and

irritating" architectural dogma.

"Whatever you think of his buildings, Niemeyer has stamped

on the world a Brazilian style of architecture," Dennis Sharp,

a British architect and author of The Illustrated Encyclopedia

of Architects and Architecture, once said of Niemeyer.

LIFELONG COMMUNIST

Niemeyer's legacy is heavily associated with his communist

views. He was a close friend of Cuba's revolutionary leader

Fidel Castro and an enemy of Brazil's 21-year military

dictatorship.

"There are only two communists left in the world, Niemeyer

and myself," Castro once joked.

Niemeyer remained politically active after returning to

Brazil, taking up the cause of a militant and sometimes violent

movement of landless peasants. He said in 2010 that he was a

great admirer of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the former labor

leader who was Brazil's president from 2003 to 2010.

Niemeyer once built a house in a Rio slum for his former

driver and gave apartments and offices as presents to others.

Despite his egalitarian views, Niemeyer had no illusions

that his buildings were helping to improve social justice.

Far from the model city Niemeyer had envisioned, Brasilia

today is in many ways the epitome of inequality. Planned for

500,000 people, the city is now home to more than 2.5 million

and VIPs keep to themselves in fenced-in villas while the poor

live in distant satellite towns.

"It seemed like a new era was coming, but Brazil is the same

crap - a country of the very poor and the very rich," he said in

another Reuters interview in 2001.

In a 2010 interview in his office, he was quick to blame

Costa for things many dislike about Brasilia, such as its rigid

ordering into homogenous "hotel," "government," "residential"

and even "mansion" and "media" districts that can make finding a

newspaper or groceries a chore.

"I just did the buildings," he said. "All that other stuff

was Costa."

Despite Niemeyer's atheism, one of his first significant

early works was a church built in homage to St. Francis, part of

a complex of modern buildings in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

That work won the confidence of the city's mayor Juscelino

Kubitschek. When he became president, he tapped Niemeyer to help

realize the dream of opening up Brazil's interior by moving the

capital from coastal Rio to the empty plains of central Brazil.

Despite years of bohemian living, Niemeyer remained married

for 76 years to Annita Baldo, his first wife. He married his

second wife, longtime aide Vera Lucia Cabreira, in 2006 at the

age of 99. She survives him, as do four grandchildren.

Niemeyer's only daughter, an architect, designer and gallery

owner, Anna Maria, died on June 6 at the age of 82.

Most Popular in Business