Oscar Niemeyer, who died last week, was a controversial giant. Best known for designing a new capital city for his native Brazil and the UN headquarters in New York, his work resonates across the world. At his best, Niemeyer curved the skyscraper and made height humane. But Brasília, despite its beauty, also serves as an illustration of the dangers of utopian over-planning. Beautiful buildings made Niemeyer famous among architects and critics. But by making height more than merely a practical answer to urban problems, Niemeyer’s structures mattered to cities, and have given him an outsized presence among urbanists and aesthetically challenged economists like me. Skyscrapers are a sensible alternative to the stresses of sprawl. They enable the concentration of talent that generates ideas and prosperity. Building up replaces the car with the elevator as the core tool for transportation, helping reduce carbon emissions and congestion.
Glaeser, Edward L. "Brasília is a Warning to Urban Dreamers." Financial Times, December 9, 2012.