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Prolific Midcentury Brazilian Architect Lina Bo Bardi is Having a Moment

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Buzz has been swirling around Lina Bo Bardi, one of the rare female greats included in the annals of midcentury modern architecture (notable, considering she's been out of commission since her death in 1992). It's high time for a Bo Bardi resurgence, especially in light of a furniture retrospective at R & Company gallery in New York, as well as a bevy of the architect's process documents included in the massive museum survey Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955-1980 set to open at MoMA next week.

Achillina Bo was born in Rome on December 5, 1914, then cut her teeth in her native Italy as a scholar, designer, entrepreneur, and newspaper editor. After working for Carlo Pagani, she establishes a private architectural office at the age of 28, and before long a World War II Allied aerial attack decimates the Milan practice. Two years later in 1945, Domus magazine sends her to catalog the bombed-out shells of various sites around the country. This period of reflection inspires a strong socialist sentiment.

Bo Bardi marries curator Pietro Maria Bardi in 1946, and later that year the new couple leave for Brazil where a bright future awaits her as one of the key players in that country's articulation of midcentury modernism. Her first major commission comes in 1947, and it is the conversion of an existing building into the first iteration of the São Paulo Museum of Art, and an important working relationship with its proprietor Assis Chateaubriand is established. Wanting to create a comprehensive system for her client, Bo Bardi organizes a furniture design practice along with Giancarlo Palanti called the Studio de Arte e Arquitetura Palma. All-inclusive to the max, their pressed wood and plastic designs are manufactured by the studio's fabrication arm.

The design for the classic "Bardi's Bowl Chair" is created during this period, and despite its rigid construction, the seat can be manipulated to suit the comfort level of any user. A recent Arper reissue in honor of what would have been Bo Bardi's 100th birthday allows customers to select their own colors from a range originally specified by the architect.

Lest her intellectual side become distracted by design work, in 1950 Lina Bo and Pietro Bardi found Habitat magazine. There Bo Bardi writes articles expounding upon the community-oriented principles that keep her inspired to create. She starts thinking about the challenges facing common Brazilians just trying to survive in the impoverished nation, and becomes concerned with the lack of cultural outlets for them in which to seek pleasure. The rigid principles of her avant-garde education begin to soften as she melds the two inspirations.

By the time she becomes a naturalized citizen in 1951, she has fully immersed herself in the vibrant culture of her new country. Bo Bardi finds unique ways to combine the colorful inspiration all around her in Brazil with the austere modernism preached by her European mentors. Her first solo work was completed that year, and was the residence that she would reside in for the next forty years. "Glass House" is reminiscent of European modernist theory in its composition, but is set within the manicured Mata Atlântica, or what was once the natural rain forest habitat around São Paulo. The design exposes modern building materials such as steel and concrete, and highlights their beauty. Pilotis raise the structure so its ribbon windows sit amidst a green canopy. Though she designed enclosed buildings, Bo Bardi promoted interaction with the natural world, and her house frames its environs in such a way as to inspire visitors to leave and experience the surrounding world. Over time, this structure came to be revered as one of the utmost examples of Brazilian modernism.

The museum commissions Bo Bardi for an original building in which to house its collections, and it takes another decade until completion. That same year, in 1957, one project not awarded to Bo Bardi is the now-iconic Brasilia complex by Lucio Costa. The design for the museum rejects an international utopian style of architecture promoted by Costa and contemporaries such as Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer. Instead, Bo Bardi requires her buildings to be informed by the particular culture in which they are situated. This structure, while appearing to look purely modern in an aesthetic sense, seems instead to Bo Bardi a "fixed tropical greenhouse," borrowing from traditional Brazilian building types and exposing all the inner-workings in an effort to be economical and pragmatic, moreso than intellectual.

In 1959, Bo Bardi is asked by the local government to restore a remote Salvador da Bahia sugar plantation and create a modern art museum within the complex, called the Solar do Unhão. Of the unusual project, she reflects that the "current museum cannot be a place in ruins, where antique curios are stacked up and where dust prevails like in the catacombs." She sought to create a "living museum" from the ashes, and once completed, Bo Bardi continues curating exhibitions and designing scenic architecture for plays here throughout the remainder of her career, even returning after periods of inactivity due to the various political upheavals of that era.

A later work by Bo Bardi is the SESC Pompéia, or the Pompéia Factory Leisure Centre, begun in 1977. It is another example of the potential for adaptive reuse within modernsim, and takes an abandoned factory situated within industrial São Paulo and makes it a useful gathering place for the surrounding community. Many facets of the design come from Bo Bardi's observations of how the plaza surrounding the building was already being utilized by people, even in its decrepit state. Bo Bardi takes inspiration from meditations on how to better provide utility to the people, rather that turning the site into something completely new.

Throughout the final decades of her life, Bo Bardi's plate is heaped with diverse projects types such as private homes, academic lecturing, print publication writing, museum design and restoration, curating installations, set and costume design for theater productions, scenic design for films, and many unbuilt proposals for mixed-use urban complexes. The breadth and diversity of her thinking is astounding for any multidisciplinary architect of the time, and she has now rightfully taken her place amongst the canons of taste.

· All Retrospectives coverage [Curbed National]
· Exhibition Detail [R & Company]
· Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955-1980 [MoMA]
· Timeline [Lina Bo Bardi Together]
· Bardi's Bowl Chair [Arper]
· EXPO: Instituto Lina Bo e P. M. Bardi e X Bienal de Arquitetura de São Paulo (SPO) [M2DS architects]
· AD Classics: São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP) [ArchDaily]
· Lina Bo Bardi: Brazil's best-kept secret [BBC]
· Lina Bo Bardi's architecture honoured in
new photography series by Leonardo Finotti [Dezeen]
· A Female Role Model from Brazil: Lina Bo Bardi, Architect [Gendersite]
· 100 anni di Lina Bo Bardi [domus]