Oscar Niemeyer

1907 (Rio de Janeiro) – 2012 (Rio de Janeiro)

One of the most noted architects from South America, Niemeyer may be best known for his starring role in a flawed scheme. His break came in his first engagement with Corbusier, an important influence, though Niemeyer’s love of curvature underpinned an independent style; the second engagement proved less rewarding. Burle Marx was a regular collaborator; he also worked closely with his great friend Prouvé. Malraux helped with permission to work in France, where he encountered Sartre (sullen but fascinating) and Genet. De Beauvoir disliked Brasilia. Gropius visited him at home, complaining that its irregularity of form could never be mass-produced.

Oscar Niemeyer knew…

Josep Lluis Sert

1902 (Barcelona) – 1983 (Barcelona)

Architecturally, Sert is probably best known for some celebrated buildings to display collections of modernist art, and for the homes and studios he designed for close friends like Chagall, Braque, and particularly Miró. He started the first graduate programme in urban design, and executed plans for cities including Havana, Bogotá and Medellin. Giedion, Gropius, Breuer and Le Corbusier were close colleagues. His wide range of artist friends included Bonnard, Matisse, Kandinsky, Léger, Ernst and Giacometti. He lived at Calder’s when he first arrived in the U.S., and corresponded with a circle ranging from Buñuel and Dalí to Nervi and Neutra.

Josef Hoffmann

1870 (Pirnitz, Austro-Hungary, now Brtnice, Czech Republic) – 1956 (Vienna)

Hoffmann was a major figure in modernist design; his work at its best showed a clarity of form and purpose, informed by high craft ideals, and helped pave the way for the industrial aesthetic of the 20th C. Loos was a schoolmate, then fellow architectural student. Wagner was an influential teacher; Olbrich was met working in Wagner’s office, and these three, together with Klimt and Moser, founded the Vienna Secession. Hoffmann and his close colleague Moser then left to found the Wiener Werkstätte. The young Le Corbusier met him while visiting Vienna, while Mackintosh and Ashbee were met on a visit to Britain, .

Josef Hoffmann knew…

Iannis Xenakis

1922 (Brăila, Romania) – 2001 (Paris)

Xenakis was a major composer of the later 20th century, with a noted feel for structure and for mathematically-informed composition. Neither Milhaud nor Honegger appreciated his talents; Boulanger declined to take him on, but pointed him towards Messiaën, who saw where his uniqueness lay (Stockhausen was a fellow-pupil). Working for Corbusier, he defended Varèse in his collaboration with the architect (in fact largely designed by Xenakis). He worked in Schaeffer’s electronic studios, was invited by Copland to teach at Tanglewood, and joined Rostropovich’s jury. Corbusier and he enjoyed shocking diners by removing their glass eyes. Boulez hated him.

Iannis Xenakis knew…

Peter Behrens

1868 (Hamburg) – 1940 (Berlin)

It is hard to over-estimate Behrens’ importance; noted as a pioneer of modern architecture as well as of corporate identity, he should be equally celebrated as a visionary industrial designer – a field he more or less invented. Kandinsky and he became friends as young members of the Munich Secession (he later invited Kandinsky to head up a painting programme in Düsseldorf). Muthesius, Olbrich and Riemerschmid were among fellow-founders of the Deutscher Werkbund. But sometimes cited as the greatest of all his products – all young assistants in his office – are three giants of design and design education, Corbusier, Mies and Gropius.

Peter Behrens knew…

Walter Gropius

1883 (Berlin) – 1969 (Cambridge, Mass.)

Gropius is renowned as a pioneering architect and as a highly influential figure in design education. Working for Behrens, he met Mies and possibly Corbusier (later, a colleague at CIAM). Van de Velde wanted him to take over his own position in Weimar. Klee, Kandinsky, Itten and Moholy-Nagy were all recruited by Gropius to the Bauhaus (he rejected van Doesburg), where Mies, Breuer, Schlemmer and Josef Albers all became key colleagues. Stravinsky (a Bauhaus supporter) and Moore were among a wide circle of friends. Sert succeeded him at Harvard. Mahler protested to Gropius about his affair with his wife, unavailingly.

Gerrit Rietveld

1888 (Utrecht, Netherlands) – 1964 (Utrecht)

Rietveld is known particularly for two modernist classics — a chair and a house. Among de Stijl colleagues, Oud was a good friend (probably united by the impossibility of getting on for long with the dominating van Doesburg), while Mondrian and he probably never met, despite living quite close to one another. Van der Leck had been met through one of Rietveld’s architecture teachers. Rietveld was one of the founding members of an international forum initiated by Corbusier and Giedion, attending the first meeting with Stam and Chareau among others. Stam and Lissitzky together visited him at the Schröder House.

J. J. P. Oud

Jacobus Johannes Pieter Oud

1890 (Purmerend, Netherlands) – 1963 (Wassenaar)

Oud was an iconic modernist architect of the inter-war years, his radicalism tempered by a strong concern for craft. He met Berlage (whose protégé he became) through Berlage’s daughter, a teenage fellow-student. He collaborated with van Doesburg (earth and fire, bound not to last). Rietveld and Mondrian became good friends as well as de Stijl colleagues. Gropius got him to speak at the Bauhaus. Johnson visited and wrote about him and commissioned a house for his mother, but ironically disapproved of his return to decoration. Giedion likewise ended up disagreeing with him; remaining friends, they just didn’t mention architecture.

Cornelis van Eesteren

1897 (Kinderdijk, Netherlands) – 1988 (Amsterdam)

Van Eesteren’s idea of the Functional City was a strong influence in city planning for 40 years. As a young graduate on a formative year’s travel, he met Schumacher and van Doesburg in Germany — also Gropius, Moholy-Nagy, Richter, Arp, Tzara, Schwitters, and Lissitzky, who was to become a close friend. He met his compatriots Mondrian and Rietveld in Paris. Giedion and Le Corbusier were the dominant figures in the influential organisation CIAM, of which van Eesteren became the more self-effacing long-term president; Léger, Stam and Sert (van Eesteren’s successor) were among other colleagues there.

Mart Stam

1899 (Purmerend, Netherlands) – 1986 (Goldach, Switzerland)

Stam, generally less well-known than deserved, was one of the most significant European artists and designers of the 1920’s and 30’s. He was the first to come up with a tubular steel chair (winning a case against Breuer to establish this). Mies selected him to feature in a famous showcase of modernist architecture. Gropius wanted him to lead the Bauhaus’s architecture department (he declined). He worked briefly with Poelzig. Lissitzky was a close friend, and like Rietveld and to some extent Corbusier, Giedion and van Eesteren, a collaborator and colleague in the pursuit of advanced ideas about architecture and planning.