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Oscar Niemeyer, the man who loved curves for more than a hundred years

A couple of days ago, December 15th, 2002, would have been the 105th birthday of Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. He died just some days before, on December 5th. One of the great masters of architecture, the last living figure from the modern movement. Today, in this humble corner of the internet dedicated to Revit, I want to remember the name and work of this very talented man, whose name has been very familiar to me for many years, as it has been for anyone who has studied the history of art and architecture of the twentieth century. His name was always there as a reference, his drawings, his sketches, and his love for curves, the curves of women, the curves of mountains, the curves of nature, the curves of his dear Brazil.

Oscar Niemeyer had a very long and productive life. His list of projects is so long that it spans from 1936 to 2011. To see some photographs of his projects, please visit this link. From all that massive amount of work, I would like to take one of his most well-known projects, and use it to relate this article to the usual topic of this blog, which is Revit. Today, I would like to show how to model in Revit the basic form of the Cathedral of Brasilia.

The basic form of the cathedral

I do not have access to the architectural drawings with dimensions, floor plans or sections. All I have available is a bunch of photographs and some basic information: the diameter of the base: 60 meters, the height: 40 meters, and the number of columns: 16. Based on that information, I will try to create a basic form, and explain the process in Revit.

Family A : the host

I begin with a family with the generic adaptive template, (Revit 2013) because I want to create one of the curved columns, and repeat it along the circular base, to obtain 16 columns, and form the structure. This family will be the host of other parts, and here I will assemble those parts. I begin by making a reference line at the floor plan view, and a reference plane for the top height in the front view.

Family B : the curved column

To create this family I use a generic adaptive template, because this is going to be my “repeater”. To create the curved column, I am going to use a spline with some profiles. First, I need to define the curve, and therefore I go to an elevation view, and insert a photograph of the Cathedral, and using the basic information available, I draw a spline with 4 points. The photo is in perspective, of course, and I have to draw the curve in a front view, so everything is approximate, like this:

Family C : the profile for the section of the curved column

To create this family I use a generic model template, because this is going to work as a profile to create a form along the spline. I assume that the profile is a triangle, with different sizes. Therefore, I have different options: create a family that contains just a triangle with different types for sizes, or use the parametric polygon family, to control the size of the triangle. At the end, what matters is to have the ability to adjust the size of the triangle, until we have a form for the curved column, that is good enough.

Creating the form for the curved column

Here, family C is loaded into family B, and the triangle is placed at each one of the four points of the spline, one by one. The orientation of all the triangles must be similar to obtain a form that is more approximate to the design. If necessary, I use the space bar until the tip of the triangle is pointing towards the exterior of the building. Then, I need to adjust the sizes of the triangles.

Then, we adjust the size of the triangle, or change the type. Small triangles at both ends, medium triangles for the intermediate ones, and a bigger triangle at the point where the curved beam is going to connect with the others, to form the structure. Then we select all the triangles and the splines and do Create Form.

Then, in Category and Parameters, this family B must be set to “Always vertical”, so that the curved column keeps the correct orientation in the host family.

Repeating the curved column

Here, family B is loaded into family A. But before we use it, we need to divide the reference circle that we did to represent the base of the cathedral. We select the circle, and use Divide Path. In the properties dialog, we specify 16 items because we need 16 columns. Now, from the Project Browser, we place an instance of the curved column, by Place on Face, on one of the nodes of the divided path that we did over the circle. Then we use the Repeat tool, selecting the curved column.

Family D : a paraboloid form to represent the glazing

Here, family C (the curved column) is saved as family D, because we want to reuse the spline. To erase the form of the curved column we use Dissolve, and we erase also the triangles. Finally, we dissolve also the spline, and leave only the points, because we need to draw a new spline that does not use the point on the top, because the glazed portion is shorter than the columns. Once we draw this new spline in the back or front elevations, we draw a vertical reference line, select the spline and the vertical line, and do Create form, like this:

Then, I am just going to divide the surface and apply a pattern, without being precise about the actual glazing design of the church, but just to give an idea of the glazing. So I divide the two halves of this form with Divide Surface, and apply 20 divisions for U and 32 divisions for V, and I choose a triangular bent pattern, like this:

Loading the glazed form into the host

Here, family D (the glazed form) is loaded into family A, the host, and of course we place it at the center of the reference circle, and it looks like this along with the columns:

Family E : the roof and the cross

Since I don’t have more information about this, I simply made another family with a simple circular flat slab and a cross. I have no idea how the church gets rid of the rain water. That’s a good question, but anyway, this is the other family.

Loading the roof and cross and creating the rings

Here, family E (the roof and cross) is loaded into family A, the host, and of course we place it at the center of the reference circle. Then I created an outer circle, of 40 meters of radius, to represent the edge of the pool. There is water around the church, between the base circle and this outer circle. I also create a similar ring to represent the beam, at the top of the wall where the columns are connected at the bottom. The church is sunk some 3 meters or so, and that circular wall works as a structural ring for the columns. People walk down from the main plaza to this lower level, maybe using a long ramp. That lower level is not visible from the outside, and is not represented in this model. You can notice it on the photograph at the beginning of this article.

Load into project to explore some views

Finally, we could load this model into a project, and see how it looks with shadows, background, or site settings. For example, this is a top view of the church, with the site settings for Brasilia, on December 5th, 2012, the day when the architect died.

Or, an imaginary visit to the interior:

Well, this was a nice exercise, and my little humble homage to the memory of a great man, who gave a lot to the world, who spent his life on the drawing board, all in love with 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.”

See a summary of this article, in motion, with music by Brazilian composer Hector Villalobos, “Bachianas Brasileiras”. Violin and guitar by The Paganini Duo, then vocals by soprano Elina Garancha.

See you in our next blog…

2012 Planta1.com, inc. , Alfredo Medina | permission to reproduce this article is granted if the name of the author and the URL of this article receive proper credit.


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