LINA BO BARDI, Modernist Architect & Visionary Conceptualist

Lina Bo Bardi (1914–1992) was born Achillina di Enrico Bo in Rome in 1914 and moved to Brazil in 1946, on something of a whim after marrying art dealer and journalist Pietro Maria Bardi.  Lina was born in Rome and attended the Rome College of Architecture, graduating at age 25, after which, she moved to Milan.  In Milan, she worked for the architect Carlo Pagani and collaborated with the architect and designer Gio Ponti. Lina opened her own architectural studio in 1942, at the age of 28, but the dearth of architectural work during WWII prompted her to work as an illustrator for many italian newspapers and magazines.  From 1942-45 she served as Deputy Director of Domus magazine.

In 1946, Lina returned to Rome and married the art critic and journalist Pietro Maria Bardi. The couple’s relocation to Brazil shortly after their wedding proved invigorating for them. Lina quickly reopened her architectural practice, and also co-founded the influential art magazine, Habitat.

Brazil became her adopted home, a place where she was free to make provocative announcements (“I have never faced any obstacles, even as a woman, That’s why I say I am Stalinest and anti-feminist.”) while designing some of the country’s most vanguard modernist architecture of the 20th century. Extending her European architectural training, Bo Bardi “continued to work with industrial materials like concrete and glass, [while] popular building materials and naturalistic forms to her design palette, striving to create large, multiuse spaces that welcomed public life.”  -Dwell, A Look Back At Lina Bo Bardi, December 26, 2013

Bo Bardi felt strongly that Design needed to embrace culture in all of its aspects; the creative work needed to satisfy aesthetic, programmatic, practical and socio-economic needs.  Her ideas about the Architecture of Everyday life were decades ahead of her time and she met with much rejection and resistance along the way  from a bourgeois-dominated culture that remained fixed on many of the elitist, codified practices, values and  aesthetics inherited from centuries of eurocentric thought.  In April 1989 an exhibition of her work was held at The Universidade de São Paulo.  This was the 74 year old architect’s first exhibition and at her accompanying lecture, she presented many of her provocative ideas to those in attendance.  Zeuler R. M. De a. Lima describes this rare and final public appearance by Bo Bardi:

Bo Bardi arrived late for the event. A large crowd chatted impatiently in the brightly lit auditorium. Constrained by arthritis, she walked slowly down the ramps and entered the lecture hall through a side door, climbing the steps onto the stage with some difficulty. There, a few guests welcomed her at the table. As she spoke into the microphone with her husky, Italian-accented Portuguese, the audience hushed. Though fragmented, her lecture was frank and sophisticated. She expressed concern about contemporary architectural education and criticism. Perhaps rebutting the narrow formalism that had kept her unusual work from being fully accepted by modern Brazilian architects, she spoke against a tradition that she traced back to the Enlightenment, a “set of classical rules that were codified in books and erudite treatises.” 1

“I would not say that those rules are as dangerous as Gropius thought,” she warned, “but they may disturb the creative education of architects when they are not well understood historically.” Instead, she suggested, “it is necessary to consider the past as a historical present, still alive,” and to “forge another ‘true’ present” that could not be found in books. She offered this advice to young architects: “When we design, even as a student, it is important that a building serves a purpose and that it has the connotation of use. It is necessary that the work does not fall from the sky over its inhabitants, but rather expresses a need.” In conclusion, she said, “You should always look for the ideal, decent object, which could also be defined by the old term ‘beauty.’”  -Lina Bo Bardi and The Architecture of Everyday Culture, Places, November 2013

Notable projects for Bo Bardi are her Glass House, built in Sao Paulo in 1951, and the Sao Paulo Museum of Art. In keeping with her expansive character and restless creative spirit, Bo Bardi also designed furniture and textiles for her company, Studio de Arte e Arquitetura Palma.

Lina Bo Bardi passed away on March 20, 1992 at age 77.  She left behind a legacy of inventive and wondrous design but perhaps even more significantly, her life and its fearless and persistent pursuit of both cultural and social idealism and revolution in the arts serves us all with an example to be inspired by.

“Lina Bo Bardi above all respected people: their energy, expression, and collective freedom. She sought to remove hierarchies and divisions, making buildings that reflected the texture and diversity of her adopted Brazil, and curating exhibitions of popular art, in which she perceived an everyday poetry. Throughout her work, which embraced architecture, furniture design, curating, writing, illustration, and stage sets, she showed a truth and integrity, living her social and creative ideas. For Lina, a handcrafted toy zebra could stand beside a De Chirico painting or a Calder mobile, and inspire a new conversation.” –Domus Magazine, Lina Bo Bardi, Together, June 24, 2014

“Her life’s trajectory does not explain her work but made it possible. She remained faithful throughout her distinctive career to a process of self-renewal despite (or perhaps because of) the discontinuous means she employed, the unusual paths she pursued, and the wide-ranging collaborations she embraced. As she declared to a journalist who interviewed her in 1989, “I didn’t make myself alone. I am curious and this quality broadens my horizons.” Without hesitation, she added: “I am somehow special.” -Places Journal, Lina Bo Bardi And The Architecture Of Everyday Culture, Zeuler, R.M. De A. Lima, November 2013

Sources:

  • wikipedia, Lina Bo Bardi, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lina_Bo_Bardi
  • Dwell, A Look Back At Lina Bo Bardi, December 6, 2013
  • Places Journal, Lina Bo Bardi And The Architecture Of Everyday Culture, Zeuler, R.M. De A. Lima, November 2013
  • Architectural Review, Thinkpiece
  • Domus Magazine, Lina Bo Bardi, Together, June 24, 2014
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