She was a foreigner; she was a woman. She didn’t fit within the Brazilian cultural scene. Instead, yet stood out through her fearless attitude towards a male-dominated profession, allowing her contextual sensitivity and progressive outlook transpire throughout an increasingly acclaimed and unique body of work.
Lina Bo Bardi 1914 -1992 Education Facoltà di Architettura in Rome Key buildings Casa de Vidro (1951) Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP)(1960) SESC Pompéia (1986) Quote “Architecture and architectural freedom are above all a social issue that must be seen from inside a political structure, not from outside it.”
Born Achillina Bo in Rome in 1914, she was one of the most expressive architects of 20th-century Brazilian architecture. At the age of 25, she graduated from the Rome College of Architecture with “The Maternity and Infancy Care Centre” as her final piece. After collaborating with architect Carlo Pagani at Studio Bo e Pagani and with architect and designer Gio Ponti on a home design magazine, Lina opened her own studio, age 28, in Milan. With Italy engulfed in the political pressures of World War II, the challenges to secure architectural commissions stalled her practice, so she worked temporarily as an illustrator for a variety of newspapers and magazines. Her office was soon after destroyed by an aerial bombing over the city, and Lina became increasingly involved in the political scene. Shortly, Bardi was commissioned by Domus magazine to document the extent of the damaging effects of the war across the country’s urban and architectural fabric, and it was at this point when she became invested not only in the material, aesthetic dimension of design but also in its moral and cultural impact.
In 1946, after marrying self-educated art critic and journalist Pietro Maria Bardi, Lina moved to Brazil, which would eventually become her adoptive country. Lina quickly re-established her studio in Sao Paolo, and she and her husband co-founded the influential art magazine ‘Habitat’. It’s interesting to notice how Lina had first established a large body of work as curator, writer, furniture, and set designer before her first built piece The Glass House or ‘Casa de Vidro’, completed in 1951.
Her journey to implementing her progressive aesthetic within the Brazilian scene was not short of challenges. As Wilson and Moore explain (2013, Questioning Architectural Judgment: The Problem of Codes in the United States), although Bardi and her husband were welcomed socially and respected by the leading Brazilian architects, “she was invited by Niemeyer to design the furniture for the Alvadorada Palace at Brasilia, but she was never received by him or his colleagues as a peer”. It was no surprise she was not offered a teaching position at the University of Sao Paolo. Only twenty years later, she was invited to teach in the north of Brazil at the University of Salvador in Bahaia, where she would enjoy an intense period of academic and professional growth and development. It is here where her value was acknowledged and capitalized, where she earned her status as a key intellectual leader. As her apprentice, Ferraz explains, her double status as a ‘woman’ and a ‘foreigner’ made her ‘sensitive to perceive cultural differences.’
As time goes by, it is Lina’s relentless perseverance that continues to inspire even more than her built legacy. What could have been otherwise categorized as a set of paralyzing professional circumstances did not intimidate or deviate her trajectory. Instead, she kept in focus her beliefs, embracing the modern and the vernacular alike while keeping human value and accessibility at the center of her designs. Thank you, Lina.
(1) Wilson, Barbara & Moore, Steven. (2013). Questioning Architectural Judgment: The Problem of Codes in the United States. 10.4324/9780203796658.