by Devanshi ShahApr 22, 2021
Italian-born Brazilian modernist architect Lina Bo Bardi was recently awarded the Special Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement in memoriam at the Venice Biennale 2021, also known as Biennale Architettura. Bardi was also a designer, scenographer, artist and critic. The Special Golden Lion is awarded at every festival in recognition of the recipient's lifetime achievements and is celebrated as part of the inauguration ceremony for the Biennale, scheduled this year to open on May 22 2021. The awardee is nominated by the curators of the Biennale, and previous recipients include British architect, critic and educator Kenneth Frampton in 2018; Brazilian architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha in 2016 and Canadian architect and philanthropist, Phyllis Lambert in 2016. Bo Bardi is not the first architect to win the Golden Lion posthumously. In 2010, Japanese architect Kazuo Shinohara, who was nominated by Kazuyo Sejima, also received the honour. Bo Bardi's work continues to inspire the exploration of the social and cultural potential of architecture and design. As we near the opening of the Venice Biennale Architecture 2021, STIR takes a journey through Bo Bardi's work.
Bo Bardi was born in Rome in 1914 and lived through both wars. After graduating from the Rome College of Architecture in 1939 she moved to Milan. Here she collaborated with some of the most prominent Italian designers including Gio Ponti and co-directed Domus with Carlo Pagini in 1944. In addition to being an accomplished architect, designer and writer, she was a notable cultural thinker. She wrote for architectural and lifestyle magazines and was a strong voice in post-war Italy. Bo Bardi, along with Bruno Zevi, created the weekly magazine A-Attualità, Architettura, Abitazione, Arte (Modernity, Architecture, Home, Art). One of her many core ideologies was centred in the notion of the "culture of living". It was these ideas that set her apart from her contemporaries and encouraged her to look beyond the ideas of the readymade. She was particularly sensitive to aspects of everyday life. While she was a prominent voice in Italy, her practice truly came alive after she moved to Brazil and became a naturalised citizen.
Moving to Brazil
Bo Bardi relocated to São Paulo in 1947 with her husband Pietro Maria Bardi, who was invited to direct the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP). She continued to disseminate the theoretical and written aspects of architecture and design by founding the magazine Habitat in 1950, with her husband. The emblematic name referenced Bardi's conceptualisation of the ideal interior as a habitat meant to maximise human potential. This often translated into poetic spatial explorations, which were both modern and ancient at the same time. Bo Bardi's private dwellings projects such as the Casa di Valeria Cirell (1958) or the Casa do Chame-Chame (1959) saw her develop her ideas on the single-family home. Her larger cultural institutional project presented her primary interest in the architecture of civil commitment. She understood architecture as a collective service that was not constrained by a particular school of thought. She believed that respecting tradition did not negate innovation, and valued artisanal handiwork over the industrial production.
Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP)
Between 1957 and 1969, Bo Bardi built the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP). Considered to be one of the most iconic buildings of the 20th century Brazilian architecture, the building takes on the form of a large concrete and glass parallelepiped that appears to be suspended. Conceived as a place for people to congregate the plaza under the building, it is known as “free space”. The structure is eight metres off the ground and supported by two giant red pillars. Infusing the space with her own poetics, Bo Bardi combined rough and unfinished surfaces to create the sense of lightness, transparency and suspension through architecture.
One of the most radical ideas Bo Bardi had for the museum can be seen in her design of the crystal easels. Created to exhibit the collection on the second floor of the building, Bo Bardi effectively removed the works from the walls and placed them in the centre of the space. This was a very powerful decision as it questioned the traditional understanding of European museum planning, while also transforming the linearity of museum viewing. Instead of following a pre-designated narrative, viewers are allowed to choose their own route to explore the works.
Casa de Vidro
Built on a hill, Casa de Vidro was her own dwelling. Bo Bardi’s understanding of the relationship between architecture and nature is best seen here. Built as a Modernist glass box, the building has over time become more integrated with its natural surroundings. The structure also houses some of Bo Bardi’s most famous objects including the Bowl Chair, designed in 1951. Today, the structure is the headquarters of the Instituto Bardi.
Bo Bardi continued to work in São Paulo until 1986, and designed large scale cultural projects including the social centre SESC – Fábrica da Pompéia, and Teatro Oficina. The SESC building is a large community and recreational centre, created by adapting an old oil drums factory. Bo Bardi supplemented the recuperation of the old building with the addition of strategic new structures. Her later projects aimed at the renewal and rejuvenation of Brazilian architecture, which is best captured by her work on the Teatro Oficina.
Post the 2008 crisis, some of the ideas, positions and themes explored by Lina Bo Bardi were brought to the forefront of the contemporary debate on culture, historic heritage and architecture in general. Her methodology, research, and contribution to the field of design continue to influence contemporary artists and designers. Unlike various modernist structures that did not stand the test of time, Bo Bardi’s ideas and motifs continue to resonate with contemporary concepts.
Notes from the Jury
Bo Bardi was recommended for the award by Hashim Sarkis, curator of the Biennale Architettura 2021. In an official statement, Sarkis mentioned, “If there is one architect who embodies most fittingly the theme of the Biennale Architettura 2021, it is Lina Bo Bardi. Her career as a designer, editor, curator, and activist reminds us of the role of the architect as convener and importantly, as the builder of collective visions. Lina Bo Bardi also exemplifies the perseverance of the architect in difficult times whether wars, political strife, or immigration, and her ability to remain creative, generous, and optimistic throughout. Above all, it is her powerful buildings that stand out in their design and in the way that they bring architecture, nature, living, and community together. In her hands, architecture becomes truly a convening social art”.