Lina Bo Bardi, Architect of the People

“Her building is one of a kind… heroically sized in every way: the biggest span, the most prominent location. It’s a brave building, amazing and gutsy.… I don’t like overly designed, overly gestured work. In MASP, the building has a sweeping sense of movement, but also a neutral feel. The art is the star, not the building.”  Mark English on the Museu de Arte de São Paulo 

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Achillina “Lina” Bo-Bardi (b. 1914) was an Italian-born, Brazilian modernist architect and designer.

After earning an architecture degree in 1939, she moved to Milan and opened Studio Bo e Pagani with fellow architect, Carlo Pagani. World War II made obtaining work as an architect difficult, so Bo took additional work as a journalist and illustrator for newspapers and magazines, including Gio Ponti’s critically successful magazine, Domus. While at Domus, Bo and Pagani, along with a photographer, toured war-torn Italy to document the destruction for Domus. This, along with the loss of her office in Milan due to aerial bombings, greatly influenced Bo’s political involvement in the anti-fascist, Italian Communist Party and, ultimately, her architectural vision.  This made her life in Milan during the war anything but ordinary.  Bo-Bardi once said that it was “a miracle” she escaped unharmed, as her activities with the resistance and a noticeable affinity for “new art,” caught the attention of the Gestapo.

At the end of the war, Bo married Brazilian art critic, Pietro Maria Bardi, and immigrated to Brazil where she and Giancarlo Palanti opened Studio de Arte e Arquitetura Palma, a modern furniture design firm that emphasized affordability and traditional Brazilian craftsmanship. And it is In Brazil where she would eventually establish her rationalist style in which she “put people in the centre of the project.”

In 1951, she designed her first project in São Paulo, her home, “Casa de Vidro”, a glass house that hovered on the edge of the rainforest. But it was in 1958 that Bo Bardi designed what many consider her most significant design, the Museu de Arte de São Paulo. Considered by many to be a leading example of Brazilian modernist architecture, the main body of the museum appears to be suspended from brilliant red columns and beams creating an open space underneath so as not to obscure the vista beyond the museum. The main exhibition room, unlike most museums, had floor to ceiling windows that flooded the room with natural light. The museum also implemented Bo Bardi’s unique method of displaying the art by which the art pieces were fixed to glass panels allowing visitors to move amongst the art instead of observing from a distance.

As a preservationist, which was not a popular notion at the time, Bo Bardi, was acutely aware of the relationship people have with the buildings they inhabit. About the historic district of Bahia, she said ‘[It] is not about the preservation of important architectures, but about preserving the city’s popular soul.’ So, after the coup in 1964, and once again finding it difficult to obtain commissions for new projects, she refocused her work on “adaptive reuse;” turning buildings and factories in need of rehabilitation into cultural and leisure centers. This work would continue until her death in 1992.

While never gaining the recognition of her Brazilian contemporary, Oscar Niemeyer, nor being a native-born Brazilian, Bo Bardi’s love for her adopted country and the people that lived there, inspired her to create masterpieces that were accessible to all, making her a beloved master of Brazilian Modernism.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, sitting, table and indoor
Row 1: “Casa de Vidro” (Photo: Markus Lanz); “Tripé Chair” (approx. 1948-51); “Bowl Chair” (1951); tea trolley (1948);
Row 2: “Abril Chair” (designed for the Sao Paolo museum, 1947); interior Sao Paulo museum; exterior Sao Paulo museum; Lina Bo-Bardi

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