News: Flying down to Rio for Gold Medal award to Niemeyer
David Rock writes about the presentation of the Royal Gold Medal to Oscar Niemeyer in Brazil: The presentation on 23 November, was a grand affair, organised - and paid for! - by the City of Rio de Janeiro. The mayor, Luiz Paulo Conde, an architect, is a long-time supporter and admirer of Oscar Niemeyer. Some 500 people were at the presentation held in the Palacio da Cidade, which (appropriately for the event) was originally the British Embassy. Built between 1942 and 1947, its interiors could have been by Robert Adam.
On the dais for the presentation were: John Haskell, British ambassador; Marcello Aleniar, the regional governor; the mayor; and myself. We all made short speeches, Oscar's the shortest of all. He ended his thanks with a plea that the poor of Brazil receive greater support. The event was covered by tv and about 15 photographers. The riba's brochure for the event was much appreciated - 300 were handed out.
Earlier in the day, Oscar had taken me to his latest building, the art gallery at Niteroi, and I had lunch with his staff and engineers at his design office - he has another office elsewhere for the production of drawings. He has been at this design office for 40 years and works (standing up because of a bad back) at a small A2 drawing stand. In the afternoon his nephew, also an architect, took me to Oscar's famous own house of the 1950s, with its amoeba shapes centred on a huge rock that is both inside and outside the house.
The next day, the mayor held a formal luncheon in honour of Oscar. Harry Seidler, Gold Medallist of 1998 - who had once worked for Oscar - and Penny Seidler were also there. They had flown from Buenos Aires, where Harry was speaking, for the Royal Gold Medal event.
The Seidlers and I were then taken to a splendid exhibition on Niemeyer, organised by the city, and then to Burle Marx's garden at Barra de Guaratiba. Gradually extended form his house, it stretches along and up a hillside, 350m in each direction, with pools, pergolas, terraces, old and new buildings, a church and forest of exotic plants which Marx had collected from around the world.
The British Council was delighted that the presentation was in Rio, in that the uk and architecture were receiving much publicity. This made me think that this year could set a good precedent, in that the Royal Gold Medal might do a lot more for the riba, and the uk, abroad than it could if presented at Portland Place.