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Brazilian architect, 104

FILE - In this 2002 file phoBrazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer sits during an interview his office Rio de Janeiro Brazil.

FILE - In this 2002 file photo, Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer sits during an interview in his office in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. According to a hospital spokeswoman on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, famed Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer has died at age 104. (AP Photo/Andre Luiz Mello, File)

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Updated: January 9, 2013 6:13AM

RIO DE JANEIRO — Architect Oscar Niemeyer, who re-created Brazil’s sensuous curves in reinforced concrete and built the capital of Brasilia on the empty central plains as a symbol of the nation’s future, died on Wednesday. He was 104.

Elisa Barboux, a spokeswoman for the Hospital Samaritano in Rio de Janeiro, confirmed Mr. Niemeyer’s death and said the cause was a respiratory infection. He had been hospitalized for several weeks and also on separate occasions earlier this year, suffering from kidney problems, pneumonia and dehydration.

Dr. Fernando Gjorup, Mr. Niemeyer’s physician, said the architect worked on pending projects in the days before his death, taking visits from engineers and other professionals.

“The most impressive thing is that his body suffered but his mind was lucid,” Gjorup said at a press conference. “He didn’t talk about death, never talked about death. He talked about life.”

In works from Brasilia’s crown-shaped cathedral to the undulating French Communist Party building in Paris, Mr. Niemeyer shunned the steel-box structures of many modernist architects, finding inspiration in nature’s crescents and spirals. His hallmarks include much of the United Nations complex in New York and the Museum of Modern Art in Niteroi, which is perched like a flying saucer across Guanabara Bay from Rio de Janeiro.

“Right angles don’t attract me. Nor straight, hard and inflexible lines created by man,” he wrote in his 1998 memoir “The Curves of Time.” “What attracts me are free and sensual curves. The curves we find in mountains, in the waves of the sea, in the body of the woman we love.”

His curves give sweep and grace to Brasilia, the city that opened up Brazil’s vast interior in the 1960s and moved the nation’s capital from coastal Rio.

Mr. Niemeyer designed most of the city’s important buildings, while French-born, avant-garde architect Lucio Costa crafted its distinctive airplane-like layout. Mr. Niemeyer left his mark in the flowing concrete of the Cabinet ministries and the monumental dome of the national museum.

As the city grew to 2 million, critics said it lacked “soul” as well as street corners, “a utopian horror,” in the words of art critic Robert Hughes.

Mr. Niemeyer shrugged off the criticism.

“If you go to Brasilia you might not like it, say there’s something better, but there’s nothing just like it,” he said in an interview with O Globo newspaper in 2006 at age 98. “I search for surprise in my architecture. A work of art should cause the emotion of newness.”

In 2009, he came under heavy criticism for proposing to build a “Plaza of Sovereignty” in the heart of Brasilia.

Preservationists said the 330-foot-tall obelisk he envisioned would mar the very skyline the architect created a half-century earlier. Niemeyer relented on the plaza, only to unveil new plans for a 165-foot-tall tower in the same spot. AP

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