BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Hundreds of mourners lined up in the vast open plaza at the heart of Brasilia, Brazil's modernist capital, to honor internationally renowned architect Oscar Niemeyer during a Thursday memorial in the city that most strongly reflects his signature style in its monumental buildings of flowing concrete and grand, sweeping curves.
Niemeyer's remains were flown by presidential plane to the capital from his native city, Rio de Janeiro, where he died Wednesday night at age 104. Elisa Barboux, a spokeswoman for the Hospital Samaritano in Rio, said the cause of death was a respiratory infection.
Elegantly attired in a black suit and matching hat, Jose Grilo, 70, was among those lining up to honor the architect who brought grace and flow to a city erected on an immense arid plain. His parents were laborers, two among the droves of Brazilians who flocked from all over in 1960 seeking work and a better life in the brand new city.
"I grew up seeing these buildings and always admired Niemeyer," said Grilo. "I always dreamed of meeting him in life; now I can see him in death."
After the flight in the plane loaned by President Dilma Rousseff, the remains of the groundbreaking architect rested in the presidential palace, a deceptively simple building of glass and concrete that seems nearly weightless, an airy glass structure held aloft by vast, curving white pillars. Immense white ramps unspool from within the structure. It was on the main walkway that the mourners marched in to see the creator of these quintessentially Brazilian forms.
A young architecture student, Daniela Menezes, also in the long line, saying Niemeyer was an idol and the reason why she wanted to become an architect.
"I grew up in Brasilia, and have great pride in this admirable man," she said.
As an artist, Niemeyer favored cold concrete and glass, but as a man, he was regarded with great warmth by the population. This affection was visible as the funeral cortege paraded his remains through Brasilia, between the airport and the presidential palace. People simply stopped what they were doing and applauded.
After Thursday's vigil and public visitation, his remains will be returned Friday for burial in Rio, where the governor, Sergio Cabral, has called for three days of mourning.
"His manner was gentle, his convictions were firm, and he was loved by the Brazilian people," Cabral said in a statement.
Born into an elite family, Niemeyer was a lifelong communist who took a stand against social inequality in one of the most unequal nations on Earth, though he held no illusions his work could create a more egalitarian nation.
Rousseff described Niemeyer as "revolutionary," saying in a statement that he was "the mentor of a new architecture that was beautiful, logical, and as he himself defined it, inventive."
Sergio Magalhaes, president of the Brazilian Institute of Architects, said: "Beyond being an architect, Niemeyer was a man ahead of his time, who stood in solidarity with the people and who was loved as few have been."