Meet Brazil’s Modernist Maven, Lina Bo Bardi

Matt Shaw Matt Shaw

Achillina Bo was born in Rome in 1914, the same year that Le Corbusier published his Maison Dom-Ino. She worked for designers in Italy, including Carlo Pagani, before founding her own practice in 1932. After World War II destroyed Europe, it was Domus magazine that sent her out to survey the destruction of the built environment.

Image via Lina Bo Bardi Together

She would eventually marry curator Pietro Maria Bardi, whose last name combined with hers to create one of the better names in architectural history. Lina Bo Bardi and her work are a story that beautifully parallels European modernism as it made its way across the Atlantic, down to Latin America — specifically, in Brazil.

Her work is being recognized widely for the first time in her career. A major traveling retrospective “Lina Bo Bardi: Together” will make its first American stop at the Graham Foundation in Chicago in April, having made its way around Europe, starting at the British Council in September 2012. In New York at the MoMA, Bo Bardi is featured alongside a bevy of other Latin American Architects, and at R & Company, select furniture pieces are currently on view alongside drawings, textiles, and prints by Brazilian master landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. This onslaught of attention echoes the PIN-UP/Storefront for Art and Architecture birthday party that celebrated Bo Bardi’s 99th birthday and the launch of a comprehensive book by Yale Press. The Architectural Association released her Stones Against Diamonds as part of their AA Words series in 2013. For her 100th brithday, furniture manufacturer Arper re-released her iconic Bowl Chair.

SESC Pompéia, São Paulo. Photo by Leonardo Finotti via Dezeen

What’s all the commotion about? Her designs stand out among not only Brazilian architects, but all modernist designers. Her most famous design might be the SESC Pompéia, a community center that occupies an abandoned factory building. Her 1977 reuse scheme is based on her research of how the community uses the nearby plaza. It is a nuanced, socially responsive attitude toward the Brazilian context, and gives Bo Bardi much more depth than simply a purveyor of taste. The São Paulo Museum of Art also incorporates some stunningly beautiful architecture with a sensitivity for public space and the wider ambitions of the city. The huge red, over-expressed structure lifts the museum off the ground, extending the plaza below.

The São Paulo Museum of Art, São Paulo. Photo by Leonardo Finotti via Dezeen

Glass House, São Paulo. Photo by Leonardo Finotti via Dezeen

Her own home is an icon of Brazilian design as well. The glass and concrete home is a riff on the European modernism she grew up with, including Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, but with her own twist. A horizontal mass sits on pilotis, which allow the landscape to flow underneath the building. The living spaces are connected and offer views of the rainforest surrounding the house. It is a distinct approach to reworking the early theories of Le Corbusier. By bringing European modernism to Brazil, Bo Bardi is remembered not only in the history of architecture, but also for her influence on her contemporaries. By curating many exhibitions and founding Habitat magazine, which published project as well as Bo Bardi’s later thoughts about socially-responsive design and community engagement — a timely topic that remains relevant today, in Brazil and beyond.

Solar da Unhão, Salvador. Photo by Leonardo Finotti via Dezeen

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