What’s believed to be one of the final designs of Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer was inaugurated in Leipzig, Germany, this past July. Known as the Niemeyer Sphere, the unusual posthumous project is based on a sketch drawn by Niemeyer in 2011, just a year before he died in his hometown of Rio de Janeiro at the age of 104. As previously reported, Jair Velara, manager of Niemeyer’s eponymous architecture studio, fleshed out and finalized the design in collaboration with Leipzig-based architect Harald Kern. Work kicked off in 2017 and was expected to wrap up the following year. However, the project experienced a lengthy delay while its solar-shading liquid-crystal glass panel windows were manufactured off-site by Dutch company Eyrise.
The Niemeyer Sphere is not a standalone structure but a curious-looking globular addition, 40 feet in diameter, that emerges like a parasitic space-age protuberance from the upper corner of a historic brick factory building at Techne Sphere Leipzig. A revived industrial campus in the city’s historic Plagwitz quarter, Techne Sphere Leipzig is home to the Halle 9 art space, a small handful of dining venues, and the production facilities of tram manufacturer HeiterBlick and railway-crane supplier Kirow Ardelt AG. The head of both companies, Lugwig Koehne, initiated the project with Niemeyer before his death. As reported by The Economist in June of the year, Koehne had been inspired to work with Niemeyer after visiting Brasilia in 2007 and eventually Niemeyer’s studio in Rio after striking up a correspondence.
Designed specifically to serve as a restaurant and lounge, the half-glazed concrete-shell structure serves as a bi-level extension of Kirow’s rather locally famous cafeteria, housed in the factory complex’s old boiler building. Headed by chef Tibor Herzigkeit, the cafeteria is described on the Techne Sphere Leipzing website as a “veritable restaurant” and is open to the public daily for breakfast, lunch, and special events with certain hours set aside for Kirow employees. Also housed in the boiler building is the Viennese coffee house-styled Café HeiterBlick, which opened alongside the Niemeyer Sphere.
The Niemeyer Sphere itself is home to Céu (Portuguese for “sky”), a new destination dining venue on the Techne Sphere Leipzig campus—adjacent, as mentioned to the cafeteria—overseen by Herzigkeit. Offering “travel-inspired specialties” (and an evening buffet), the Techne Sphere Leipzig website implores potential diners to “invite your friends, family, acquaintances, or business partners to the utopian structure and enjoy an evening of revolutionary humanistic ethos.” The Niemeyer-designed space is also available to rent for intimate private events and can be toured by the public in small groups as part of a special exhibition of architectural photography at Halle 9 celebrating the work of Niemeyer. The group exhibition, Resonance, runs through October 18.
In his introductory letter to Niemeyer, Koehne explained in detail the culinary talents of Herzigkeit, his star cafeteria chef, and his wish to create a singular new dining venue at Techne Sphere Leipzig to be enjoyed by both his employees and the public:
“Like every creative person, our chef [Herzigkeit] aims higher. He seeks a challenge and would also like to experiment a little. To this end, it is vitally important that he has the right setting, that is to say the right space for fine cuisine and small celebrations. This setting should be somewhat smaller than the current dining hall, have an intimate and yet at the same time generous character, as well as have a special view. The idea is to build a dining and dance room on the roof of the canteen building. Its precise location would be the front corner of the outer wall. From here it will have a beautiful panorama view and will also been seen from afar. The building could be accessed by a ramp, which would merge into an existing bridge. The technology for the kitchen or sanitary facilities do not need to be accommodated because they are already available in the surrounding area. The roof area can be included fully in the project. For example, a complementary roof landscape or roof garden could be created.
In particular the buildings you have built in recent years, including the extension for Florio Puenter, have encouraged me to approach you about this small project: the panorama view, a curved building design, possibly elevated and with ramps. Your architecture simply is well-suited to this construction project.”
More details on Techne Sphere Leipzig, a somewhat unlikely culinary and cultural attraction in Germany’s eighth-largest city, as well as additional photography of the completed Niemeyer Sphere can be found here.