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Public principles: Centenary of Lina Bo Bardi's birth

Despite recent celebrations of the Modernist architect’s work, is her legacy now under threat?

In her centenary year, the work of the Italo-Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi is being exhibited in museums and galleries across the world. Three shows in São Paulo, the city she made her home, will examine her life’s work, with others in Rome, Zurich and New York. Her archivists are working hard to keep up with the spate of exhibitions reflecting a widespread renewal of interest in her architecture.

It is therefore conspicuous that one of the places where her work will not be exhibited in her 100th year is at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), one of her most celebrated buildings. Completed in 1969, MASP is widely cherished as the heart of the city. The museum itself seemingly hovers above a vast open square, occupied in Bo Bardi’s imaginative sketches by a fairground, water features and children playing. However the current museum management have revealed plans to fence off the square, in retaliation to what they claim as its misuse for gatherings, protests and drug use. This move directly contradicts the vision Bo Bardi presented in the 1960s through her drawings for the site, and also in her rhetoric, ‘to make a poor architecture with free spaces that could be created by the collective, but that would be a usable space, that would be something that could be taken over’.

‘The securitisation of public space goes against the very reason why Bo Bardi’s architecture is revered’

The securitisation of this valuable space goes against why Paulistanos believe it to be such an important part of their city, but also against the very reason why Bo Bardi’s architecture is revered and celebrated today.
In contrast, her Brutalist leisure complex SESC Pompeía will be hosting an exhibition dedicated to the political positions inherent in Bo Bardi’s projects. Describing her work as an ‘accusation’, she confidently attacked the Brazilian bourgeoisie for their elitism throughout her career, making it even more remarkable that she was able not only to secure the commission for SESC, but also build it on her own terms. As one of the few openly public places for leisure in São Paulo, the constant occupation of SESC Pompeía since Bo Bardi left the project is a testament to the strength of her ideas. Used daily for sports, workshops and exhibitions, the centre was designed for collective use and still operates in this way, despite its own conservative management. Given the trend of fencing-off of public spaces across São Paulo and much of Brazil, it is notable that the idea of social engagement has become a key theme during her centennial year.

Lina Bo Bardi’s Museu de Arte de São Paulo is not taking part in her centenary, and the square beneath it is threatened with closure

Lina Bo Bardi’s Museu de Arte de São Paulo is not taking part in her centenary, and the square beneath it is threatened with closure

The Arkitekturmuseum der TU München looks specifically at programming and occupation in their exhibition. Alongside the publication of a new book, Lina Bo Bardi 100, the museum addresses the notion of modernisation from the bottom up, reflecting the connection between renewed enthusiasm for her work in Europe and an increased interest in alternative paths into practice. In Brazil however, this appreciation is becoming more evident in the work of a growing number of architecture collectives, formed largely of students, who are attempting to find new ways of practising architecture that reject established hierarchies within the industry.

In this way Bo Bardi herself defied conventional classification. A multifaceted and talented designer, her catalogue of work includes writing, illustration, teaching, furniture design as well as buildings. The Johann Jacobs Museum in Zurich has chosen to focus much of their current display on this diversity, investigating her seminal installation at the Solar do Unhão, a museum for modern art in the north-eastern city of Salvador, of which she was director between 1959 and 1964.

In the museum Bo Bardi displayed objects of everyday use, using these items to invoke a new idea of modernity based on a unique Brazilian vernacular that she would go on to describe as a arquitetura pobre (poor architecture). This idea as she put it, ‘was in the artisanal sense of achieving the maximum communication and dignity with minimal, humble means’. Bo Bardi often stated that the architect should act like an archaeologist, observing and revealing what is already visible but not necessarily appreciated.

It is exciting to see during this anniversary that so many exhibitions are reflecting on the diversity apparent in Lina Bo Bardi’s thinking, with her lesser- known ideas providing a richer understanding of the complex themes that have recently helped to popularise her work.

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