Church of St Francis
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Architect Oscar Niemeyer
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Location Pampulha, Brazil   map
Date 1943   timeline
Building Type church
 Construction System concrete
Climate tropical
Style Organic Modern
Notes undulating vaulting roofs over T-shaped plan. Vertical side walls faced with painted tile mural.





Axonometric Drawing

Discussion Church of St Francis Commentary

"The shaping of the church by Niemeyer and his engineer Cardozo is not so playful as it at first appears. This controversial church was built up through a series of mathematically determined parabolic arches, the main chapel arch itself covering a further platform for the choir. The campanile and entrance porch are free-standing elements. Light penetrates the vaulted building through the vertical louvres at the entrance and above the altar. The spaces inside remain relatively subdued. Overlaying the structure, the architect invited artists to cover the concrete walls with mosaics which, when seen with the whites, blues and browns of the uncovered parts, create a polychromatic effect."

— Dennis Sharp. Twentieth Century Architecture: a Visual History. p163.

"Planning a church has proven an involved problem for contemporary architects. The general tendency is to go back to the old, well worn forms, because of some strange inhibition created by the subject itself. The Pampulha Church, however, had, of necessity, to maintain some spirit which prevails in the other buildings of that locality designed by Niemeyer, and to show a faith in the plastic possibilities of contemporary methods of construction. Two great vaults cover the nave and high altar and dominate the whole composition which develops into successive vaulting at the rear. The bell tower and the marquee at the entrance serve as contrasting elements....

"The building provoked, however, a great deal of animosity among some people. One mayor went as far as to propose the demolition of the building and its replacement by a copy of the church of Saint Francis in Ouro Preto. Prevented from doing this, he proceeded to have the church filled with altars, benches and pews of miscellaneous origin. Finally, the National Department of Artistic and Historical Patrimony decided to take the church under its jurisdiction, saving it from those who were either unable or unwilling to understand it."

— from Stamo Papadaki. The Work of Oscar Niemeyer. p93.

"Sited on a promontory some distance from the Pampulha amusement complex, this small church embodies an entirely revolutionary use of concrete for ecclesiastical purposes. At the time of its construction the only comparably daring structure had been Auguste Perret's vertical and largely precast structure at Raincy in France, built in 1924. Niemeyer employed the plastic qualities of concrete by using the same structural element for walls and roof in a series of parabolic arches. The outer screen wall on the north side is finished with a tiled mural depicting scenes from the life of St. Francis."

— from Rupert Spade. Oscar Niemeyer. p126.

The Creator's Words

"Architecture must express the spirit of the technical and social forces that are predominant in a given epoch; but when such forces are not balanced, the resulting conflict is prejudicial to the content of the work and to the work as a whole. Only with this in mind may we understand the nature of the plans and drawings which appear in this volume. I should have very much liked to be in a position to present a more realistic achievement: a kind of work which reflects not only refinements and comfort but also a positive collaboration between the architect and the whole society."

— Oscar Niemeyer. from Stamo Papadaki. The Work of Oscar Niemeyer. p5.

Sources on Church of St Francis

Oscar Niemeyer. The Curves of Time: the memoirs of Oscar Niemeyer. London: Phaidon, 2000. ISBN 0-7148-4007-6. — Available at

John Julius Norwich, ed. Great Architecture of the World. London: Mitchell Beazley Publishers, 1975. facade photo, cutaway perspective, p261. Reprint edition: Da Capo Press, April 1991. ISBN 0-3068-0436-0. — An accessible, inspiring and informative overview of world architecture, with lots of full-color cutaway drawings, and clear explanations. Available at

Stamo Papadaki. The Work of Oscar Niemeyer. Second Edition. New York: Reinhold Publishing Corporation, 1951. NA859.N5P3 1954. discussion p5, 93.

Dennis Sharp. Twentieth Century Architecture: a Visual History. New York: Facts on File, 1990. NA 680.S517. ISBN 0-8160-2438-3. photo, p163. — Available at

Rupert Spade, introduction and notes, Yukio Futagawa, photographs. Oscar Niemeyer. First U.S. Printing. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1971. ISBN 671-21051-3. LC 70-159583. NA859.N5S6 1971b. discussion p126.

Kevin Matthews. The Great Buildings Collection on CD-ROM. Artifice, 2001. ISBN 0-9667098-4-5.— Available at  Find books about Church of St Francis


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