Lina Bo Bardi
“There is a pleasure in the victory and wonder of being simple.”
Lina Bo Bardi
Lina Bo Bardi (born December 5, 1914, Rome, Italy–died March 20, 1992, São Paulo, Brazil) was an Italian-born Brazilian architect, furniture designer, set designer, and journalist whose work combines a Modernist sensitivity with a profound commitment to the preservation of the vernacular and a design process guided by social responsibility. Today, Bo Bardi is considered one of the most prominent and consequential Modernist architects, and her prolific oeuvre is appreciated for its simplicity, adherence to Modernism, and deep contemplation as to the ways in which architecture can also reflect the common, the vernacular, and the artisanal as an intrinsic part of a contemporary culture.
Lina Bo Bardi’s Formative Years And Early Professional Life As An Architect In Italy
Born Lina Achillina Bo in Rome, Italy, in 1914, she was drawn to the fields of art and architecture at a remarkably young age. Though her parents were at first not necessarily receptive of her chosen path, Bo Bardi nevertheless pursued her vision by enrolling at the College of Architecture in Rome. Following her graduation in 1939, she moved to Milan and, with fellow architect Carlo Pagani, founded Studio Bo e Pagani.
Toward the end of 1941, while at the Studio Bo e Pagani, Bo Bardi collaborated with architect Gio Ponti at Lo Stile–nella casa e nell’arredamento, a magazine that Ponti had just started. The following year, in 1942, she founded her own independent practice while also working as an illustrator at Lo Stile and other magazines and newspapers of the time. Unfortunately, on July 19, 1943, Allied bombers launched an air raid on Rome in which her studio was destroyed, forcing her to temporarily abandon her practice to become deputy director of Domus magazine from 1944 to 1945. In late 1945, Bo Bardi, Pagani, and the photographer Federico Patellani were assigned by Domus to document the impact that World War II had throughout Italy. This assignment and the previous bombing of her studio in Rome deeply impacted and sensitized her, and later that year, she, Pagani, and art critic Bruno Zevi published their findings and shared their views in the short-lived magazine A: Attualità, Architettura, Abitazione, Arte.
Lina Bo Bardi Meets Her Husband And Establishes In Brazil After World War II
In 1946, she moved back to Rome, where she met and married art dealer, gallery director, and critic Pietro Maria Bardi. By October of that same year, the couple had decided to travel to Brazil to search for new opportunities and to escape the pressures of the postwar government, as they had been linked to the resistance and he had had close ties, as did many others in Italy, to the earlier phases of the Mussolini regime.
The couple first lived in Rio, where shortly after their arrival Bo Bardi established her new architectural practice and Pietro Maria Bardi went on to establish a professional and friendly relationship with the influential Brazilian media magnate and arts enthusiast Assis Chateaubriand. This relationship proved highly beneficial to the recently immigrated couple.
In late 1946, Assis Chateaubriand invited Pietro Maria Bardi to establish and direct the first modern art museum in Brazil, the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP). The museum first opened to the public in 1947 in the building that housed the offices of Assis Chateaubriand’s media business, and Bo Bardi designed the interior with an innovative glass-and-concrete easel system that allowed for the paintings to be placed away from the walls.
Lina Bo Bardi The Founder And Publisher Of Habitat Magazine
In 1950, the couple founded the magazine Habitat, which centered on the idea of interiors as habitats that maximize human potential, and Lina Bo Bardi served as its editor until 1953. The magazine rapidly established its reputation as the most influential architectural magazine in Brazil, furthering the visibility and credibility of Lina Bo Bardi. By this time, it was clear that Bo Bardi had found in Brazil and its culture a fertile ground to reinterpret Italian Rationalism and to find a new language that infused it with the vernacular and the Brazilian landscape.
Important Architectural Works
The Glass House (Casa de Vidro)
In 1951, Bo Bardi became a Brazilian citizen, started to teach industrial design at the MASP, and created one of her landmark designs: the Casa de Vidro (Glass House), a home for her and her husband on a 7,000-square-meter lot that had formerly been a tea farm on the side of a hill in the Morumbi neighborhood of São Paulo.
The Glass House, a contemporary to both Mies van der Rohe’s and Philip Johnson’s glass houses, was built with a highly Rationalist design. The main structure consists of two slabs of reinforced concrete, where half of the house sits on solid ground and the other half is elevated and supported on slender stilts, allowing for lush vegetation to integrate the structure with its surroundings. The design elevates the entire house, and one enters it from underneath by a flight of stairs into an expansive living area with glass walls.
MASP – Museu de Arte São Paulo
By 1956, it had become evident that the original scope and building of MASP had become insufficient, as the museum needed a much larger exhibit and teaching spaces. In 1958, Bo Bardi started to work on the design and construction of a new MASP, this one centrally located on São Paulo’s Paulista Avenue.
For MASP, which would eventually take 10 years to complete, Lina Bo Bardi designed an expansive concrete-and-glass 74-meter-wide Brutalist structure held on four columns that surround the whole building and lift it 8 meters above the ground. This two-floor, massive yet simple, colorful structure with unobstructed views of the entire city would become a cultural magnet and an icon of the city.
For the Museum–which is surrounded by large windows overlooking Sao Paulo, thus limiting the availability of wall surfaces on which to mount exhibitions–Lina Bo Bardi designed freestanding glass panels supported on concrete blocks on which the canvases are mounted. This environment provides the visitors with a space in which they wander around the art and become part of the exhibition itself.
Solar do Unhão
In 1958, Bo Bardi was invited to impart conferences at the Escola de Belas Artes da Universidade Federal da Bahia in the city of Salvador in the northeastern state of Bahia. What initially was conceived as a short visit would become a long stay when, in 1959, Lina was invited to establish and run Bahia’s Museum of Modern Art (Museu de Arte Moderna da Bahia). This experience in the economically poor but culturally rich state of Bahia continued to transform Lina Bo Bardi’s practice. In Bahia, she focused even more on integrating popular art and pre-colonial and African cultural references as intrinsic components of a modernist 20th century Brazilian expression.
For Bahia’s museum, Lina selected Solar do Unhão, a seaside 18th century colonial sugar mill. The project lasted from 1959 until 1963, leaving intact the external colonial structure but intervening in the interior of the building with a geometric staircase that links eight exhibition rooms, an auditorium, a projection room, and a library.
SESC Pompéia Community Center
In 1964, after the completion of the Museu de Arte Moderna da Bahia, Bo Bardi returned to São Paulo under a different political climate as Brazil would start a period of sequential military dictatorships. At this time, Bo Bardi made increasingly simple designs with local materials and called her approach “Arquitetura Povera,” a term probably inspired by the then-prevalent avant-garde Italian art movement “Arte Povera,” which implies simplicity and the use of everyday inexpensive materials.
In 1977, Bo Bardi was approached to create SESC Pompéia, a community center in São Paulo at a site where old building tower structures housed a drum factory. For this project, she deployed the full force of her approach to architecture. She sandblasted the walls of the old factory towers to expose their raw concrete and brick walls and used descending and ascending bridgeways to connect the towers at different points of their façades. When finished in 1986, the community center included gymnasiums, a swimming pool, community areas, galleries, theaters, and workshops but triggered controversy due to its uniquely vernacular approach to architecture.
Bo Bardi also designed the Teatro Oficina in 1984 as a place for experimental theater. Since its construction, the structure has been highly controversial as it does not conform to the typical expectations of a traditional theater space. The design is an open-plan, tall, and very narrow structure and incorporates a tall scaffolding along one of its two large walls, while the other one is almost entirely a glass wall.
Lina Bo Bardi’s Furniture Designs
Just as in her architecture, Lina Bo Bardi’s approach to furniture design is highly influenced by modernism and the use of common vernacular language and simple local materials, such as plywood, native Brazilian woods, hides, leather, and steel.
Her most prominent furniture designs include the MASP 7 de Abril folding chair, made out of a folding wooden structure with canvas seat and back, which was used for the auditorium of the first MASP building; the Cadeira tripé de ferro, or Tripod, chair (1948), made out of a cowhide seat adjusted to a three-leg metal frame and inspired by sitting hammocks of passenger ships of the Amazon as well as by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer; the Zig Zag chair, in collaboration with Giancarlo Palanti (1950), made of leather seat and back adjusted to a low cobreuva zigzagging wooden frame; the Rocking chair, also in collaboration with Giancarlo Palanti (1950), made out of a swirling wooden and upholstered seat and back; the Bowl chair (1951), made of a hemispherical seat resting on a steel ring structure on four legs; and the Bola armchair (1951), made out of leather adjusted to a wire frame with two vertical brass knobs as handstands.
Awards And Exhibitions About Lina Bo Bardi
In 1989, Bo Bardi had the first retrospective of her work at the University of São Paulo. Since her death, the importance of her life and work has grown in and outside Brazil, and several international retrospective exhibitions have been organized.
- In 2009, the Venice Architecture Biennale organized a major retrospective of her work.
- In 2012, to commemorate the centennial of Bo Bardi’s birth, the British Council, in collaboration with the Lina Bo e P.M. Bardi Foundation, exhibited in London Lina Bo Bardi: Together, which focused on Lina’s work and her approach to social responsibility. This exhibition later traveled to the Graham Foundation in Chicago (2015) and to the SESC Pompéia in São Paulo (2016).
- In 2013, the British Council, in collaboration with the Instituto Lina Bo e P.M. Bardi, created an architectural fellowship for UK architects to study in Brazil.
- In 2019, the MASP organized a major retrospective titled Lina Bo Bardi: Habitat, with a focus on Bo Bardi’s work as a process of “unlearning” Western perspective and dogma.
- Also in 2019, the Fundació Joan Miró of Barcelona presented a collection of 100 of Lina Bo Bardi’s drawings in the exhibition Lina Bo Bardi Dibuja.
For additional information on Lina Bo Bardi, please visit the following:
“Biografia Lina,” Instituto Lina Bo e P.M. Bardi;
Baratto, R., “Spotlight: Lina Bo Bardi,” ArchDaily, 5 December 2017; and
Zeuler R. M. de A. Lima, “Lina Bo Bardi and the Architecture of Everyday Culture,” Places Journal, November 2013.
Last updated: October 26, 2020
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Lina Bo Bardi's Solo Museum Exhibitions
- “Lina Bo Bardi: Habitat,” Museo Jumex, January, 30 – May, 10
- “Lina Bo Bardi Drawing,” Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona, Spain
- “Lina Bo Bardi: Habitat,” Museum of Art of Säo Paulo, Säo Paulo
- “Lina Bo Bardi: tupí or not tupí. Brazil, 1946-1992,” Fundación Juan March, Madrid, Spain
- “Lina Bo Bardi: Together.” Graham Foundation, Chicago
- “Lina Bo Bardi: 100. Brazil’s Alternative Path to Modernism,” Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, Germany
- “Centenario Lina Bo Bardi (1914-2014),” Museu de Arte Moderna da Bahia e Casa do Benin, Bahia, Brazil
- Universidade de Säo Paulo
Group Museum Exhibitions
- “The Value of Good Design,” Museum of Modern Art, New York
- “Art on Display: Frams de expor 49-69,” Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal
- “Mies’s McCormick House Revealed: New Views,” Elmhurst Art Museum, Elmhurst, Illinois
- “Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction,” Museum of Modern Art, New York
- “Albert Frey and Lina Bo Bardi: A Search for Living Architecture,” Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center
- “Casa de Vidro, The Norwegian Glasshouse,” National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo, Norway
- “Another Reality. After Lina Bo Bardi,” Stroom Den Haag, The Hague, Netherlands
- “Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955-1980,” Museum of Modern Art, New York
- “Moderno: Design for Living in Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela 1940-78,” The Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas [traveled to: Americas Society, New York]
- “Brazil Modern,” R & Company, New York
- “Kaleidoscope: abstraction in architecture,” Christopher Grimes Gallery, Los Angeles, California
- “Designing Modern Women 1890-1990,” Museum of Modern Art, New York
- “Conceptions of Space: Recent Acquisitions in Contemporary Architecture,” Museum of Modern Art, New York
- 12th International Architecture Biennale, La Biennale di Venezia, Venice, Italy
- “When Lives Become Form – Contemporary Brazilian Art: 1960-Present,” Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan
- “Can Buildings Curate,” Storefront for Art and Architecture, New York
- “Brazil Projects,” Museum of Modern Art, New York
- Teatro Oficina, Säo Paulo
- Centro de Lazer Fabrica da Pompeia (SESC Pompeia)
- Solar do Unhao, Salvador, Bahia
- Sao Paulo Museum of Art, Säo Paulo
- “Travel Posters,” Museum of Modern Art, New York
- “Posters by Painters and Sculptors,” Museum of Modern Art, New York
- Casa de Vidro, Glass House, Morumbi
- Bardi’s Bowl, 1951: Chair
Bibliography On Lina Bo Bardi's Contributions To Architecture, And Product And Furniture Design
Concreto e Cristal: O Acervo Do Masp Nos Cavaletes De Lina Bo Bardi (Concrete and Crystal: Masp’s Collection on Lina Bo Bardi’s Easels)
Cobogo & Museum of Art Sao Paulo
Sao Paulo, Brazil (2015)
Lina Bo Bardi: 100: Brazil’s Alternative Path to Modernism
Munich, Germany (2015)
Zeuler R.M. De A. Lima & Barry Bergdoll
Lina Bo Bardi
Yale University Press
New Heaven CT, U.S. (2013)
Lina Bo Bardi
Lina Bo Bardi: Glass House / Casa de vidro, 1950-1951
Säo Paulo, Brazil (1999)
Laura Miotto & Salvina Niccolini
Lina Bo Bardi. Aprisi all’accadimento
Testo & imagine (1998)
Cecilia Rodrigues Dos Santos
Lina Bo Bardi: Leisure Center SESC Pompeia Factory
Säo Paulo, Brazil (1996)