Bo Bardi's own house is still shaped by European modernism, but increases greatly with respect to the Brazilian nature. Photo © Ioana Marinescu
Lively, spontaneous, Brazilian
by Ralf Wollheim
Jun 30, 2014

Lina Bo Bardi even designed a jersey for “futebol”, but it was never worn for a World Cup. As an architect, illustrator, stage and furniture designer she was a polymath who smoothly moved between the different fields and made no difference between highbrow and lowbrow. On the contrary: An immigrant from Italy, she found native Brazilian culture ever more important and in the course of time it inspired many of her numerous projects. The exhibition “Lina Bo Bardi: Together” at Deutsches Architektur Zentrum (DAZ) in Berlin focuses above all on three built projects. Her own house is presented in a short film by Tapio Snellmans and photos by Ioana Marinscu. Waiting to be discovered is her “Glass House” (1951) in São Paulo, which is still indebted to European, white Modernism. However, the design tries in quite a spectacular vein to incorporate the opulent tropical vegetation. To this end, the house was built out over a steep slope (almost floating) on slender stilts and around a green zone with abundant trees. The exotic plants reveal the location, but the house complies above all with the standards of an international Modernism that in Brazil was nurtured above all in Rio de Janeiro.

As Italians who had worked for some years with Gio Ponti, born in 1914 in Rome, Achillina Bo and her husband Pietro Maria Bardi arrived in 1946 in São Paulo with a decidedly European outlook on architecture and art. But the house’s very interior design with highly idiosyncratic furniture and above all a hodgepodge of historical sculptural bric-a-brac from Europe and Asia as well as folklore-steeped objects pointed to her inquisitive and open mind. Here, the exhibition has a very private take. Alongside Tapio Snellman’s films, the contributions by artist Madelon Vriesendorp offer an unusual angle on Bo Bardi’s oeuvre. Indeed, the results of a workshop with kids and other objects from Brazilian popular culture are on display in countless wooden vitrines. Here, again, there is no hierarchy. Artistic Brazilian crafts artifacts are placed next to paper-maché figures and small colored birds populate the rest of the show. The lively impression is reinforced by the different film projections that show Bo Bardi’s buildings being used. We see old men playing chess, couples dancing, children playing in the rain.
The SESC Pompéia leisure center is presented not as an empty space and pure architecture, but the way it is still used today. Bo Bardi avoided the term ‘cultural center’, as it seemed too preachy to her ears. During the planning phase in 1977 she worked on site and tried to find out what the inhabitants really needed. The result was, in 1982, a mixture of sports hall, theater space, library and leisure center in an old factory that she had spectacularly converted. Irregularly shaped windows pierce the massive reinforced concrete of the old 1920s building, which is connected by several bridges and two towers to the necessary ancillary rooms. The connecting walkways lead across a river directly next to the factory. So the dramatic gesture is certainly not without reason.

Another of Bo Bardi’s buildings is defined by its public use and great acceptance by the locals. The MASP art museum in São Paulo first catches the eye because of its massive structure. However, part of the museum is buried into a slope, with exhibition and utility rooms in part located underground, meaning the roof of the podium doubles up as a viewing platform. A second section of the museum with marvelously glazed exhibition halls is suspended from two red concrete braces and forms a shady roof over the plaza, which is 70 meters wide. Bo Bardi wanted the plaza to be a tranquil place next to a busy main road and from the very outset planned activities for this airy space. To this day, it is one of the few publicly used places in the city and frequently is chosen for spontaneous meets and demonstrations, as people like to emphasize. The exhibition thus presents Lina Bo Bardi as an architect of social life and with the unusual displays conveys a sense of the joie de vivre typical of Brazil, an approach of which she would no doubt have approved.

While the exhibition creates a personal link to the architect, in her book “Der Raum des Öffentlichen” Margaret Becker describes an entire generation of architects who created astonishing buildings in São Paulo and formed the so-called “Escola Paulista” – “the São Paulo school”. In this way, they set themselves off from Rio de Janeiro and the international Modernism so popular there, and above all of course from Oscar Niemeyer, the omnipresent representative of a playful and exclusive architecture. How different by contrast the new builds in São Paulo, where somewhat coarser materials and grand gestures created spaces for a social community. From the outside, they look somewhat repellent: huge concrete structures that shield you from the hot sunlight and yet accommodate surprisingly open innards. The FAU USP architectural faculty in São Paulo, erected in 1968 according to a Vilanova Artigas design, is the prime example. Concrete walls drawn deep are held by X-shaped struts, giving the volume a heavy and massive feel. However, on the inside the concrete cube is astonishingly bright and open. Beneath the protective roof there is simply an open entrance area and no thresholds between you and the huge atrium hall used for lectures, exhibitions or parties. Ramps lead to the other levels and double up as communicative spaces.

A similar approach is to be found with Paulo Mendes da Rocha’s project for the 1970 Osaka World Expo. A huge roof structure seems to lie on the hilly countryside, creating a fluid transition to the areas for events and presentations. Mendes da Rocha came up with similarly large embracing structures with diverse interiors for a museum for Brazilian sculpture and for a cultural center for the industrial confederation of the State of São Paulo, FIESP. Other projects, by Fábio Penteado or MMBB Arquitetos, likewise come under the “Escola Paulista” and are worthy discoveries. Lina Bo Bardi was more of an outsider here. Her buildings may concur with the school’s spirit, but she was far too interested in Brazil’s art and culture to be considered an architect pure and simple. The DAZ exhibition conveys this very vividly.

Lina Bo Bardi: Together
Deutsches Architektur Zentrum, Berlin (DAZ)
June 13 – August 17, 2014

Der Raum des Öffentlichen
Die Escola Paulista und der Brutalismus in Brasilien
By Margret Becker
Hardcover, 279 pages, german
Reimer Verlag, Berlin, 2012
49,00 Euro

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Viva Lina! An Italian in Brazil: Disappointed by political developments in her home country, after World War II Lina Bo Bardi turned her back on Italy.
(22 May 2013)

The Italian Lina Bo Bardi didn’t want an exhibition about her work shown during her lifetime, now their buildings and research are on show at the Deutsches Architektur Zentrum Berlin.
Photo © Copyright Instituto Bo Bardi
Lots of bizarre objects and film projections characterize this unusual architecture exhibition.>br/>Photo © Ioana Marinescu
An old factory became a leisure center, today we would call this genesis a participation process. Film still © Tapio Snellman
The suspended construction of the art museum in São Paulo is spectacular, the space on the lower ground floor including offers a shady spot with a view. Film still © Tapio Snellman
The book by Margaret Becker gives a fascinating insight into a little-known chapter of the Brazilian architectural history. Photo © Reimer Verlag
The Cultural Center of the Industrial Association of the State of São Paulo FIESP by architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha follows the spirit of the "Escola Paulista", the "school" of São Paulo.
Photo © Flickr - connection consulting
The exhibition provides an insight into Lina Bo Bardi's zest for life and her love for Brazil.
Photo © Schnepp Renou
The atrium of the Faculty of Architecture in São Paulo by architect Vilanova Artigas is open on all sides and is used for lectures and exhibitions. Photo © Margaret Becker
The Bowl Chair, Bo Bardi designed for her own home, is now produced by Arper in a limited edition. Photo © Philip Heckhausen