Sphere's to You

Oscar Niemeyer's last structure is nearly complete

The Niemeyer Sphere will be completed in Spring 2020, eight years after Oscar Niemeyer’s death. (Courtesy Techne Sphere Leipzig)

Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer maintained his practice until he died at the impressive age of 104 in 2012. One of the last projects he designed, a 40-foot-diameter sphere hanging off the corner of a 19th-century red brick building in Leipzig, Germany, is scheduled to be completed posthumously in Spring 2020. The design is based on a sketch drawn by Niemeyer in 2011, a year before his death, while the remaining details were supplied by Jair Velara, the office manager of the studio Oscar Niemeyer.

The addition, officially named the “Niemeyer Sphere,” includes a smooth 40-foot-diameter sphere and a discreetly-designed supporting structure. The project is in the center of the Techne Sphere Leipzig campus, the main factory site of tram-manufacturer HeiterBlick and railway-crane manufacturer Kirow Ardelt AG, and will function as a cafeteria, bar, and lounge for on-site staff. The project was an opportunity to demonstrate impeccable manufacturing through notable methods: Fifty wooden molds were crafted by hand to construct the mold for the sphere’s concrete shell, while an innovative liquid-crystal glass was developed in 2018 specifically to reduce solar glare within the building’s well-lit interiors. The design recalls the floating utopian spheres of Buckminster Fuller, the precarious Coop Himmelb(l)au-designed rooftop remodel for Schuppich, Sporn, Winischhofer, Schuppich in Austria, and the otherworldly spatial experiments of Haus Rucker Co.

A white concrete sphere hanging off of a red brick building

The concrete shell was developed using fifty handmade wooden molds. (Courtesy Techne Sphere Leipzig)

The project was begun in 2017 with an anticipated completion date of 2018, but construction was halted for a year while the team waited for the glass to be manufactured off-site. Ludwig Koehne, the owner of the campus, commissioned Niemeyer based on the openness of his previous designs. “The more walls you have,” said Koene, “the less progress you can make as a company. You need contact with other people. Niemeyer’s pavilion is a highly original way to bring those people in.”

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