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Retrospective: Lina Bo Bardi

01crop nordeste lina bo bardi architectural review

Lina Bo Bardi’s ideas of living heritage and the historical present live on in the transformations she wrought, even as some of her buildings have been left to fall into ruin

An Italian who lived through the war, Lina Bo Bardi had an understanding of heritage and reconstruction that permeated her work throughout her life. Decades before the Venice Charter was drafted in 1964, she studied rehabilitation and conservation under Gustavo Giovannoni in her first year at university – a subject she later pursued, seeing ‘no difference between the historical and the modern’. In 1945, just a few days after the Armistice was signed, she travelled all over Italy with a journalist and a photographer collecting data, mapping the destruction and documenting the remains. ‘We felt that we had to do something to pull architecture out of the mudflat’, she later wrote. That same year, living in Milan and anticipating the agenda of the years of reconstruction that would follow the end of the conflict, she founded, along with Carlo Pagani and Bruno Zevi, the magazine A (standing for Attualità, Architettura, Abitazione, Arte), ‘dedicated to presenting reconstruction issues to a non-specialised audience’

02 tiles lina bo bardi architectural review edit

02 tiles lina bo bardi architectural review edit

Source: Instituto Bardi / Casa de Vidro

Bo Bardi carefully tending to the existing fabric of the Solar do Unhão

It is evident from her own writing that she had formed a clear idea of how heritage should be treated early in her career, and how it related to the intentions and philosophical stance of the architect. Reconstruction is not the same as preservation, and Bo Bardi’s work in Brazil, spanning more than 40 years, had nothing to do with the war. But she viewed preservation as an action that values and deals with the present conditions of buildings, as well as their past. ‘It is clear that we [architects] have a lot of respect for antique objects, the authentic, and we also preserve them at home, as relics that we keep in our cabinets’, she wrote. ‘But to violate an era by embalming it in plaster means ignoring the fatigued and painful process of humanity.’

‘In her eyes, heritage was not limited to Classical Italian churches or centuries-old Palladian buildings; she identified the factory as something worth preserving for its functional beauty’

The architect was first able to exercise her approach to rehabilitation in her elected homeland in Salvador da Bahia during the 1960s. Invited to direct the Museu de Arte Moderno da Bahia (MAMB), which was yet to be inaugurated, Bo Bardi was set to redesign the lobby of the partially destroyed Teatro Castro Alves, left abandoned after a fire, so the institution could be temporarily housed there. The museum opened in January 1960. Zeuler Lima describes how the design was based on the use of light and convertible materials, such as ‘floor-to-ceiling curtains around the glazed exhibition hall and sliding curtains to create separable rooms’ and ‘adjustable metal rods to hold flat panels and modular plywood stands’. Besides the glazed lobby, the museum occupied a ramp leading to the abandoned theatre, where an auditorium was installed. Bo Bardi made designs for the stage and the seats, all in wood. 

03 photograph ruin lina bo bardi architectural review

03 photograph ruin lina bo bardi architectural review

Source: Instituto Bardi / Casa de Vidro

04 a magazine lina bo bardi architectural review

04 a magazine lina bo bardi architectural review

Source: Instituto Bardi / Casa de Vidro

Before coming to the architectural pressure cooker of Brazil, Bo Bardi began to formulate the ideas presented in A magazine in the midst of the great glut of Italian antiquity, the question of its treatment made all the more urgent by the destruction she experienced in her tour of 1945

In the years between the museum’s inauguration and the start of the dictatorship in March 1964, the growing rift between the architect and local personalities and the ever-greater hostility to her avant-garde, anti-establishment vision did not stop Bo Bardi from furthering her vision for MAMB as a cultural centre. It was an openly political stance: she wanted it to become a centre that would both invite and diffuse popular Brazilian culture, emboldening it against Eurocentric metropolitan aesthetics, as well as populism and commodification of local culture.

The Solar do Unhão became available in 1962: a small, colonial estate on the sea shore, a few blocks away from the theatre, then occupied by squatters. Bo Bardi coordinated a thorough remodelling of its structures that included the famous original design of the central wooden staircase for the main building. 

06 solar do unhao lina bo bardi architectural review edit

06 solar do unhao lina bo bardi architectural review edit

Source: Instituto Bardi / Casa de Vidro

The spiral stair at the Solar do Unhão

Moving back to São Paulo in 1964, Bo Bardi devoted most of her time to overseeing the design and construction of the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), constructed from scratch on Avenida Paulista and inaugurated in 1968. Here, the entanglement of past and present was embodied in the innovative way she opted for the art to be displayed. By placing paintings on different themes and from different eras side by side on glass easels, she challenged canonised standards of the Western art world and revealed her fearless principles of approaching history with an extremely creative mind. 

A cultural promoter and activist as much as an architect, the Italian émigrée’s non-linear view of history influenced her judgement when commissioned for a new Serviço Social do Comércio (SESC) centre in Pompéia, refusing to see the old oil-barrel factory demolished: ‘It was not only extremely rare but in good condition, requiring no special work at the site. We tore down the partition walls in order to free up large poetic spaces for the community’.  

13 sesc pompeia lina bo bardi architectural review

13 sesc pompeia lina bo bardi architectural review

Source: Instituto Bardi / Casa de Vidro 

SESC Pompéia opened its doors in 1982, home to a set of custom furniture that filled out the rehabilitation of the factory building

11 sesc pompeia lina bo bardi architectural review

11 sesc pompeia lina bo bardi architectural review

Source: Instituto Bardi / Casa de Vidro / Sérgio Gicovate 

The hearty set of wood and its generous joins is reminiscent of the stair at MAMB and characteristic of much of Bo Bardi’s carpentry, offering a sense of honesty and warmth

12 sesc pompeia furniture lina bo bardi architectural review edit

12 sesc pompeia furniture lina bo bardi architectural review edit

Source: Instituto Bardi / Casa de Vidro 

 ‘The SESC building dates from the turn of the century and is not listed, but it should be’,  she argued. In her eyes, heritage was not limited to Classical Italian churches or centuries-old Palladian buildings; she identified the factory as something worth preserving for its functional beauty. Today this notion is more familiar to us because we have been exposed to so many crumbling industrial complexes transformed into cultural centres or contemporary art museums (DIA Beacon, Hangar Bicocca, Fondazione Prada), but in 1978, when Bo Bardi first walked through the site, declaring ‘what we want is precisely to maintain and amplify what we’ve found here, nothing more’, adaptive reuse was not a frequently discussed idea in practice or theory.

05 salvador da bahia lina bo bardi architectural review edit

05 salvador da bahia lina bo bardi architectural review edit

Source: Instituto Bardi / Casa de Vidro

Bo Bardi made Salvador da Bahia her adopted home, becoming director of MAMB in 1960 

The recycling or conversion of buildings seemed natural to Bo Bardi, inspired by the use and reuse of basic materials in popular Brazilian object-making, appreciative of the resourcefulness involved in the transformation of waste into useful objects. In the first issue of Habitat, out in 1950, she published a photograph, taken in the north of Brazil, of a buggy made out of food packaging. The sight must have brought back memories of her days working for Italian women’s magazine Grazia, when a poverty-stricken mother had sent a letter asking how she could get a baby cot with no money, and the architect had replied with instructions on how to make a crib out of a fruit crate. Bo Bardi saw material improvisation as much a part of Brazilian culture as any vernacular, pre-modern practice. ‘If traditional techniques had deep roots in popular culture, recycling revealed the power to adapt to new demands’, she wrote. Working with daily objects made of material waste, in 1963 she curated Nordeste, the inaugural exhibition of Salvador da Bahia’s Museu de Arte Popular, also sited at the Solar do Unhão. 

Although living in São Paulo, Bo Bardi felt at home in Salvador da Bahia, and she returned in 1986, having achieved wider recognition after completing SESC Pompéia. Commissioned by Mayor Mário Kertész, the hitect and her team worked on the drawings for the Programa Especial de Recuperação dos Sitios Históricos (Special Programme for Recovery of Historic Sites), led by the anthropologist Roberto Pinho and involving intervention in several buildings in Pelourinho in the historic centre of Salvador. 

08 solar do unhao lina bo bardi architectural review

08 solar do unhao lina bo bardi architectural review

Source: Instituto Bardi / Casa de Vidro 

MAMB’s new site became Solar do Unhão, which Bo Bardi renovated from its dishevelled state in 1962 

07 solar do unhao lina bo bardi architectural review

07 solar do unhao lina bo bardi architectural review

Source: Instituto Bardi / Casa de Vidro / Armin Guthmann

Zeuler Lima researched personal notes and documents written at the time of the project, finding that Bo Bardi considered what she called the ‘social issue’ to be ‘perhaps more important than the architectural restoration’.  The architect’s intentions were aligned with those of Pinho and Kertész: rehabilitation should not concern only the built structures, but also the social fabric and the community’s economic sustainability. She stated that the design was ‘not a tourist project’, that they should not be ‘transforming the Pelourinho district into an “ice-cream” city’. Rehabilitation had to be socially inclusive and the architects insisted on ‘Attention to men and not just monuments’.

Out of a detailed and broad-reaching masterplan, only some of the interventions were realised. Teatro Gregório de Matos was constructed on the site of a nightclub, structurally reinforced in concrete (including the addition of a new pillar-and-beam system to support new activities), changes in material and layout for the interior, and the placement of a highly sculptural, serpentine staircase. She designed the Frei Egídio chair for the project – designing furniture pertained to a broader understanding of interior design as a key element in rehabilitation (she also designed an entire set of custom furniture for SESC Pompéia, the Girafa chair for Casa do Benin, and the MAMB auditorium seats).

10 exhibition design lina bo bardi architectural review edit

10 exhibition design lina bo bardi architectural review edit

Source: Instituto Bardi / Casa de Vidro 

09 masp exhibition lina bo bardi architectural review

09 masp exhibition lina bo bardi architectural review

Source: MASP

Engaging with an idea that the matter of antiquity should be freely and actively encountered rather than embalmed onto the heavy, static walls of a museum and frozen to death, the hovering easels of Bo Bardi’s exhibition design at MASP were eventually abandoned in 1996 before being recreated by Metro Arquitetos in 2015 

In another project in Salvador, designed with João Filgueiras Lima (Lelé), Bo Bardi proposed a holistic intervention in a set of houses known as Ladeira da Misericórdia, which involved structural reinforcement of the compromised colonial buildings and new structures made in corrugated ferrocement, such as the one that would house the Coati restaurant, designed around a large pre-existing mango tree. A new programmatic organisation (low-cost housing on the upper floors, commerce on the ground floors) would guarantee the project’s vitality and sustainability.

‘To violate an era by embalming it in plaster means ignoring the fatigued and painful process of humanity’

Nearby, Casa do Benin, designed in 1987 and comprising three pre-existing buildings, is a cultural centre dedicated to supporting a partnership between Brazil and the African country of Benin – an effort towardsrecognising the role of the country’s heritage in the cultural formation of Bahia and Salvador, given that most of the enslaved people trafficked to Brazil came from there. 

16 casa do benin lina bo bardi architectural review edit

16 casa do benin lina bo bardi architectural review edit

Source: Nelson Kon

21 casa do benin lina bo bardi architectural review

21 casa do benin lina bo bardi architectural review

Source: Nelson Kon

The design for Casa do Olodum (a type of African-inspired Brazilian music) was the last one to be executed for Salvador before the large-scale plan for the central area was officially cancelled. The building, a former manor, housed a commercial space on the ground floor, and workshop and rehearsal areas on the upper floors. The larger, upper floor, was clad in the same ferrocement panels as the other interventions, and the architectural team designed a pyramidal skylight that complemented the tiled roof. 

Between 1980 and 1991, Bo Bardi worked on São Paulo’s Teatro Oficina. The relationship with the highly controversial and openly political drama company led by José Celso Martinez Corrêa was tumultuous, but the result, a narrow performance hall that stretches deep into the lot, fitted within a building stripped down to its outer walls, was remarkably cohesive and experimental. The architect and her team settled on a street-like passage that crossed the building lengthwise, flanked by bright-blue platforms built on scaffolding, and a large glazed portion of the wall overlooking the empty lot beside it.

23 teatro oficina lina bo bardi architectural review

23 teatro oficina lina bo bardi architectural review

Source: Nelson Kon

After over 10 years of work, Teatro Oficina was completed in 1991 and joined a legacy of retrofit theatres designed by Bo Bardi 

22 teatro oficina lina bo bardi architectural review

22 teatro oficina lina bo bardi architectural review

Source: Nelson Kon

However simple the structure of Oficina’s scaffolding, the light folding chairs of Teatro Gregório de Matos or the sling chairs of the auditorium at the Teatro Castro Alves, these delicate moves make up both the matter and spirit of much of her intervention

24 teatro oficina lina bo bardi architectural review

24 teatro oficina lina bo bardi architectural review

Two years before her death in 1992, Bo Bardi was invited to design a reuse project for the deactivated Guanabara station, in Campinas. The state university of Campinas had been granted the complex by the municipality, and Bo Bardi proposed that they tear down the more intricately designed terminal area, constructed in masonry, replacing it with a new building. She also proposed the reactivation of the train tracks and expressed her wishes that a mobile exhibition train would leave Campinas to travel between cities. 

Following the architect’s death, her built work rapidly suffered from ‘a non-stop process of deterioration and mishandling’, not by virtue of natural ageing but as the result of interventions that ‘not only physically destroy[ed] the works, but also conceptually contradict[ed] Lina Bo Bardi’s strategy as a designer’ as Olivia de Oliveira points out. In 1996, the MASP’s glass easels were removed and replaced with plasterboard partitions – it was only in 2015 that the easels were recreated and brought back in a restoration led by local practice Metro Arquitetos. Her Morumbi home Casa de Vidro suffered from years of neglect between the deaths of the couple and Instituto Bardi’s consolidation – it is now open to the public. The Ladeira da Misericórdia section of the Salvador projects was abandoned – it has since been occupied by squatters and disfigured.

18 coati lina bo bardi architectural review

18 coati lina bo bardi architectural review

Source: Zeuler Lima 

Coati restaurant 

20 coati lina bo bardi architectural review

20 coati lina bo bardi architectural review

Source: Manuel Sá

The building creeps around the existing vegetation, wrapping around a mango tree at its centre 

As Bo Bardi’s work became more widely acknowledged in recent years, support grew for proper preservation of her buildings. The contemporary challenge of preserving her legacy has recently received support from the Getty Foundation through the Keeping It Modern programme for the development of a Conservation Management Plan (CMP) for both Casa de Vidro and MASP. Casa de Vidro, particularly, exemplifies the Bo Bardi couple’s keen regard for preservation through their efforts that led, while they were still alive in their later years, to cultural heritage listing (1987) and the creation of the non-profit cultural association Instituto Bardi (1990), with headquarters inside the house itself. By sponsoring the development of a thorough CMP for Casa de Vidro and its surrounding constructions, the Getty grant has allowed Instituto Bardi to undertake an unprecedented research endeavour that has enabled a deeper understanding of the house, from its history to its current conditions, from architectural structures to landscape, encompassing aspects of institutional management and use. By establishing a set of clear guidelines ranging from urgent to long-term actions, the CMP promotes the conservation of the house and the future of Instituto Bardi as a unique cultural institution, as its creators intended.

14 salvador da bahia lina bo bardi architectural review

14 salvador da bahia lina bo bardi architectural review

Source: Instituto Bardi / Casa de Vidro 

In 1987, Bo Bardi continued work in Salvador da Bahia with Ladeira da Misericórdia. Undertaken with Lelé, the project included the renovation of four derelict buildings

 

15 salvador da bahia lina bo bardi architectural review

15 salvador da bahia lina bo bardi architectural review

Casa de Vidro was a lifetime project of conservation, in the reconstruction of a landscape. Bo Bardi did not seek to restore the 1951 landscape of Morumbi to a pre-settlement nature, but she did design the garden surrounding the house in a way that would heighten an awareness of previous species that could have inhabited the area. She restored the possibility of a natural landscape. In the case of the MASP, she set out to preserve the social landscape. ‘I tried (hopefully not in vain) to recreate the “atmosphere” of the Trianon [the park facing the museum]. I would like to see people going there to attend open-air exhibitions, take part in debates, listen to music, watch films. I would like to see children play there in the morning and afternoon sun. And to be fair-minded about it, there should be space for outdoor gigs and everyday bad taste.’ In the landscape of the Casa de Vidro and the MASP, conservation was not about intervening in physical structures; Bo Bardi’s projects rebuild fabrics as systems, from an abandoned structure to a forgotten flora or a social landscape.

25 casa de video lina bo bardi architectural review

25 casa de video lina bo bardi architectural review

Source: Nelson Kon

Casa de Vidro, Bo Bardi’s home in São Paulo, suffered years of neglect after her death. Gaining listed status in 1987 and now restored and open to the public, the house remains a living, shifting monument to her life and her ideas about architectural heritage: for four months a year it hosts exhibitions based on the Bo Bardi archive, for four more it hosts contemporary exhibitions, and for the final four it is shown as it was when the Bo Bardis lived there.

26 casa de video lina bo bardi architectural review

26 casa de video lina bo bardi architectural review

Bo Bardi’s own words at the end of her career summarise her thoughts on preservation. During a lecture in 1989 at the University of São Paulo, she was asked by the audience to describe her ideas for the preservation of historic buildings, restoration work and the contrasts between old and new. Her answer is transcribed in ‘An Architectural Lesson’: ‘This is what I was talking about when I spoke of the historical present. In architectural practice, there is no such thing as the past. Whatever still exists today, and has not died, is the historical present. What you have to save – or rather, not save, but preserve – are the typical features and characteristics of a time that is part of our human heritage’.  She continues, ‘If people thought that everything old hat had to be preserved, the city would soon turn into a museum of junk. On an architectural restoration project you have to be creative and rigorous in choosing what to preserve. The result is what we call the historical present.’ 

Lead image: in 1963 Bo Bardi curated Nordeste at the site, an exhibition of objects made from reused materials. Image courtesy of Instituto Bardi / Casa de Vidro / Armin Guthmann

This piece is featured in the AR December 2019/January 2020 issue on New into Old and Preservation – click here to buy your copy today