Nevertheless, the future pushes on. Currently set for landing in the base of the medieval town of Avilés, located in Spain's northern Asturias region, Centro Niemeyer is a surreal, space-age barge; a fantastic monument to the shifting cultural economies of the twenty-first century. Surreal, perhaps simply for its freshness, but also for its hugeness and finesse; its stark contrast to the labyrinthine, stony streets of surrounding town. Space-aged, in the sense of the antique future we see in visionary pop culture from The Jetsons to 2001: A Space Odyssey. The new Centro embodies both the classic neutrality of the twentieth-century International Style and contemporary strains of cosmopolitanism and sustainability.
The Museum's exterior was created in just one day by pumping concrete onto a PVC inflatable mould. Inside, pristine expanses appear to hover inches above the ground. A four ton chandelier casts multiplying shadows in gill-like depthless bands. Certainly until programming begins the space will remain overwhelmingly simple. A mezzanine accessed via a striking red, spiraling stairwell suggests that light and sound installations may be set off here quite explosively.
What's more, Foster + Partners are at work on an extensive urban plan to transform the surrounding area. What is currently a very dirty industrial steel manufacturing port will become the Island of Innovation, projected to be a hub of outdoor recreation, solar and wind energy research by 2020. Any lingering smog from the neighboring coal-fired factories will yield to a landscape punctuated by minimalist public architecture elements. The master plan includes clearing the estuary to carve the site away from the mainland, making the site accessible by boat. From the sky, the new island and its surrounding marina describe the symbolic outline of a fish.
Niemeyer's is an oeuvre in which the functionalism of the "machine for living" is superseded by the plastic freedom made possible by reinforced concrete.
Largely inspired by Bilbao's economic resurrection, the Centro emphasizes this focus on content to generate global sensation. With a creative board including global celebrities, scientists and intellectuals such as Woody Allen, Kevin Spacey, Paulo Coelho, Stephen Hawking, Fatima Mernissi, Vinton Cerf, Joan Manuel Serrat and Wole Soyinka, the "Avilés effect" may already have taken hold.
It is of course yet to be discovered how celebrity-sponsored culture will impact this economically depressed, post-industrial city. Led by the former Director of the Port at Bilbao during the realization of the Guggenheim's in/famous Gehry building, the project's optimism already echoes along cobblestone paths of the village. Restaurants offer desserts in the shape of Niemeyer's buildings; the Centro-scape figures predominantly on the cover of children's history books.
Is this all apropos for a complex designed by an unapologetic Marxist, whose social-humanist ethos and stated feelings about the insignificance of his own trade led him always to do things his own way? Niemeyer intends to mean above all sticking by life: enjoying good times, friends, family and the resonance of nature. An immensely generous and apparently untiring spirit, the architect was from the start obsessed with a particular, rather than international Modernism, devoted to making spaces to embrace history and nature.
While he must be considered one of the last great Modern architects in the canonical sense, Niemeyer is also a contemporary artist. With projects of more than sixty, even seventy years ago today firmly entrenched in history, these new buildings in Spain emerge in a context that has been radically changed since the ideals of Corbusian internationalism. Certainly distant from the CIAM-brand of strident formalism he initially set out against; one hopes the Centro will successfully transform this post-industrial region into a cultural Mecca.