AD Classics: Cathedral of Brasilia / Oscar Niemeyer

©Wikimedia Commons

Having such a significant history, it can be expected that the architecture of reflects the richness and prominence of the culture as a planned city. The church bears much importance in the society, so the design had to have significance and personality against its surroundings. was sure to make a statement with the powerful expression and unique form of the Cathedral of Brasilia, which led to his acceptance of the Pritzker Prize in 1988.

More on Oscar Niemeyer and the Cathedral of Brasilisa after the break.


The cornerstone was laid in early September of 1958, when designs were beginning to be proposed and thoroughly planned out by Oscar Niemeyer. With a diameter of 70m, the only visible structure of the cathedral being sixteen concrete columns with a very peculiar shape. Reaching up towards the sky to represent two hands, the columns have parabolic sections.

©Wikimedia Commons

After the addition of the external transparent windows, the Cathedral was dedicated on May 31st of 1970. Figuratively guarding the exterior of the church stand four bronze sculptures, each 3m high. These represent the Evangelists and were made with the help of Dante Croce in 1968. More sculptures can be seen inside the nave, where three angels are suspended by steel cables. Ranging in size from 2.22 to 4.25m long and weighing 100kg-300kg each, these were completed by Alfredo Ceschiatti and Dante Croce in 1970.


Hand-painted ceramic tiles cover the walls of the oval-shaped Baptistery, done by Athos Bulcao in 1977. The Cathedral is completed with its bell tower, housing four bells that were donated by Spain. More obvious details of the interior are the stained glass windows, with different shades of blue, white and brown.

These were pieced together to fit between the steel columns, into 30m high triangles that run 10m across.  The alter was donated by Pope Paul VI, as well as the image of the Patroness Lady of Aparecida. Upon entering into the Cathedral, there stands a marble pillar with pictures of passages of the life of Our Lady, painted by Athos Bulcao.

©Wikimedia Commons

Because it is located at the Esplanada dos Ministerios, there is not a fixed community that attends services. A majority of those that come to the Mass are tourists or workers at the Esplanada dos Ministerios. The Cathedral is open daily for public visitation.

Architect: Oscar Niemeyer
Location: Brasilia, Brazil
Project Year: 1958-1960
References: Oscar Niemeyer, Albert Christ-Janer, Official Site
Photographs: Wikimedia Commons, Brasilia

Cite: Sveiven, Megan. "AD Classics: Cathedral of Brasilia / Oscar Niemeyer" 05 Jan 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 22 Sep 2014. <>


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    Niemeyer’s Metropolitan Cathedral of Brasilia is a good example of Modernism to me because of the way that the space is defined within the building, and how that space is expressed from the exterior. It may not be the most classical example of Modernism in every way of the term, but I think it provides a good look at what ELSE modernism can be and/or achieve.

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    I appreciate Niemeyer’s Metropolitan Cathedral of Brasilia as an example of modernism, even if it doesn’t quite meet all the regular expectations of that word. The expression of the structure and the space it creates in the interior, the use of “ornamentation” or the lack thereof, and what the Cathedral meant to Brazil at the time of its design and creation…all these things represent, to me, the number of things that Modernism can achieve in all its forms, and offshoots.

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    I believe that Niemeyer’s Metropolitan Cathedral of Brasilia is a good example of modernism for several reasons, not entirely reliant on the aesthetics of the building. The exterior does express the structure, and that is also expressive of the interior space that it creates. But it also stands for so much more of what the modern movement began, shown through what it means to Brazil as a whole.

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