Lina Bo Bardi (*1914 as Achillina Bo in Rome, †1992 in São Paulo) was one of the few women of her time to study architecture, which she did from 1934 to 1939. She began her career as an architect in Milan, working with the architect Carlo Pagani. On the side, she was an illustrator, publisher, and editor for various magazines, such as Gio Ponti’s Lo Stile and Domus. After her marriage to the Brazilian journalist and art critic Pietro Maria Bardi, she moved to Brazil in 1946. There, she and Giancarlo Palanti founded the Studio d’Arte Palma, an industrial design company, in 1948. From 1949 onward she designed numerous private and public buildings. She and her husband began publishing the magazine Habitat in 1950. In 1951 she was granted Brazilian citizenship, and in 1955 she became a professor on the faculty of architecture and urban planning at the University of São Paulo. In 1958 she moved to San Salvador de Bahia, where she became the director of the Museu de Arte Moderna da Bahia (MAM-BA) in 1959.  She returned to São Paulo in 1964. Although she continued her work as an architect in the years following, she also designed sets and costumes for the Teatro Oficina, curated exhibitions, and developed urban planning concepts.

The Great Unknown - Lina Bo Bardi and Her Search for a Modernist Brazilian Style

“Although one might admire Le Corbusier, one should try to imitate Lina Bo Bardi. Now. Worldwide.” (Süddeutsche Zeitung)

Who was Lina Bo Bardi, who designed two of the most famous buildings in Brazil, but who, until just a few years ago, has never been mentioned in official historical surveys of architecture? Who was this woman, whose buildings were unknown outside of Brazil until her death in 1992, but are now destinations for architectural fans from all over the world? Who was this great unknown, who planned private and public buildings, designed stage sets and clothes, published and illustrated magazines, curated exhibitions, founded and led museums, took on teaching duties, and last, but not least, developed furniture designs such as the Frei Egidio wooden chair (1987) and the Bowl Chair (1951)—a new edition of which was first manufactured in 2013?

Lina Bo Bardi was born Achillina Bo in Rome in 1914; she moved to Brazil in 1946. In her chosen homeland she followed her own unique path, exploring and confronting the country’s culture, social conditions, and political discourses. At first she based her architecture on the Modernist canon, but eventually worked through it to develop her own, individual style. Bo Bardi fought passionately for an autonomous Brazilian culture with its own roots. Hence, in her work she combined the contemporary with the traditional, drew from folkloric sources and placed particular value on the use of regional techniques and local, decidedly simple materials.

The early buildings by the Italian-Brazilian architect, including her now-famous Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP, 1957–1968), still reverberate with the spirit of International Modernism and Italian Rationalism. Her own home, the Casa de Vidro (Glass House, 1949–1951) is a boldly designed bungalow resting on stilts, practically floating above the ground; its architectural clarity follows in the footsteps of Le Corbusier or Frank Lloyd Wright. Built on a forested cliff near São Paulo, the Casa de Vidro has an almost symbiotic connection to its untouched, natural surroundings; it practically disappears into its environment and is thus a “living organism”—something that Bo Bardi strove to create, referring to the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Her later works were increasingly influenced by the dialogue between Modernism and folk tradition. Her Casa do Chame-Chame [House of Nature, 1958–1964), which she designed shortly after moving to San Salvador de Bahia, already signaled Bo Bardi’s attempt to harken back to Brazil’s past and its many African influences. Now demolished, the house’s outer walls were covered over and over with pebbles and various objects, such as shells, ceramic shards, broken bits of glass bottles, or toys. Its deliberate simplicity and use of “poor” materials make the house an architectural homage to popular culture, while at the same time, it represents a rejection of de-nationalized architecture.
With her largest project, the cultural and sports center SESC Pompéia in São Paulo (1977–1986), she created an [open], non-hierarchical space, a place for a diverse public, intended to dismiss or even erase social differences: it was social justice in raw concrete and other simple, “poor” materials, such as wood or pebbles. To achieve this, Bo Bardi repurposed an old barrel factory, erecting mighty towers unmistakably in the tradition of béton brut. She tied these together with gangways and designed parts of the interior herself—driven by her desire to unite high and low, art and life, young and old, rich and poor. “The designer has created buildings in Brazil that allow the public in, whereas others shut it out. This makes her the architect of the hour,” wrote the Süddeutsche Zeitung recently.

Even decades after they were built, Lina Bo Bardi’s remarkable buildings retain their power. Until the present day, there has been no fundamental historical examination of her work, but now—on the occasion of what would have been her 100th birthday—the life and work of this outstanding, multifaceted architect and designer can be rediscovered in publications and exhibitions.

09.12.2014 Stefanie Gommel

Veröffentlicht am: 09.12.2014