Italian-born architect Lina Bo Bardi was one of the most important and yet underrated Modernist architects and designers of the 20th century, devoting most of her life to working in Brazil. Widely lauded for her use of adapting and recycling older buildings and bringing new life to them, Bo Bardi’s projects explored sustainability and cross-cultural bridging way before they became buzzwords.
Spotlight on Lina Bo Bardi
Achillina Bo was born in Rome, Italy on December 5, 1914. After earning a degree in architecture at the University of Rome in 1939, she moved to Milan for work and began collaborating with architect Gio Ponti on the magazine Lo Stile – nella casa e nell’arredamento, marking the beginning of her work in the field of design journalism. In 1942 she opened her own architecture practice, but due to the war there was little work. Her office was destroyed a year later in an aerial bombing.
In 1944, Lina Bo became deputy director of Ponti’s Domus magazine. In this role she traveled around Italy documenting the devastation on cities and architecture in the wake of World War II. It was around this time she met critic and art historian Pietro Maria Bardi, who became her husband in 1946.
In October 1946, Lina Bo Bardi and her husband traveled to Brazil, where she re-opened her architecture practice. Together they established Habitat magazine, a “review of architecture and art in Brazil”. The magazine premiered as a space to explore the topic of “modern inhabitation” in Brazil, a particularly sparkling topic as the country was undergoing a population growth at the time. Bo Bardi sought to bridge the divide between classes by opening dialogue on art and design, stirring working classes into liberation through art, while also shifting elitist views of culture. In 1951 she became a naturalized Brazilian citizen.
Bo Bardi designed Casa de Vidro, an early example of designing European modernism with a Brazilian inflection. A glass box was designed in connection to the existing rain forest, with a courtyard in the center for trees to grow through the heart of the home. She went on to design the Sao Paulo Museum of Art and a series of furniture including the Bowl Chair. Most famously, Bo Bardi has become known for turning a drum factory into a community center; the Centro de Lazer Fábrica da Pompéia. In 1984 she took a burnt office building and turned it into the Teatro Oficina.
Mixing Italian Rationalism with Brazilian Flavor
The simple repeated forms found in Bo Bardi’s work is an example of mid-century Italian and Rationalism with functional architecture, but she combined this with a fervent love of “folk culture” found in her adopted country of Brazil, particularly the art and traditions from Bahia.
“Brazil is the country I chose, and it is therefore twice my country. I was not born here, I looked for this place and decided to live here. I chose my country.”
In her furniture collection, Bo Bardi combined the use of plywood with native Brazilian woods, along with a modernist unfussy feel.
A recurring theme for Bo Bardi was to take an old building and reuse spaces instead of opting for demolition. Re-utilization meant preserving areas and transforming them into social areas for meetings, exhibitions and public spaces.
Through working on magazine Habitat as well as in architecture, there was a general attitude of art as an everyday happening and one that is diverse. Hierarchy for spaces was dismissed with swimming and jazz concerts important for inclusivity of young and old, and across social class.
In 9189 after many years designing and building, Lina Bo Bardi was honored with the first exhibition of her work at the University of Sao Paolo. She passed away at the Casa de Vidro on March 20, 1992.
The influence of Lina Bo Bardi is felt across Brazil, not only in the architecture of the buildings left behind but also the editorial, criticism, curation and pedagogy through her writing and teaching. Although recognized now, Bo Bardi has been considered a “posthumous starchitect,” who has become more famous than in her lifetime. The museums and art galleries are still in popular use, and you can visit the Casa de Vidro with its growing fauna all around.
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