At her arrival in Brazil, little did Archillina Bo, by then already known as Lina Bo Bardi knows about the impact this would have on her architectural career. Brazil is the home to most of her works as an architect, Lina Bo Bardi was a foreigner herself in this country when she arrived. However although she was born in Italy, in many written documents, she is nowadays considered most representative of the Brazilian architecture of the 20th century.
Until 1946 she lived and worked in Italy. She was born in Rome in 1914, where she also studied architecture, before moving to Milan. There she partnered with Carlo Pagani to open her own architecture office, unfortunately, destroyed in 1943 by an aerial bombing during World War II. Although she also worked for and some renowned architects in this period, such as Gio Ponti, her interest always embraced many creative disciplines beyond architecture. Her multifaceted character took her to explore arts, product, and furniture design, as well as exhibition design and scenography, or editorial works.
She married Pietro Maria Bardi, who shared her multidisciplinary interest working as an art curator and collector after having started his career as a journalist writing about arts and architecture. The couple stayed and worked in Italy. But Rome was dominated by fascism. Lina herself being among the faces of the anti-fascist and populist movement, the political climate of the country counted among the reasons that made the couple leave for Brazil, together with the aim of widening the market of Pietro’s art business.
Five years after her arrival in Sao Paulo, Lina had completely established herself in the country, having obtained Brazilian nationality and finished construction works for her first most important work: A Casa de Vidro (The Glass House), where she would live with her husband. Her best-known works, beyond the Glass House, completely different in style and scale include the MASP (Museu de Arte de São Paulo- São Paulo Museum of Art) and the SESC (Serviço Social do Comércio – Business Social Service), built between the late 1950s and the late 1970s.
It was, however, not until soon after her death (1992) that her works started getting attention outside the country of Brazil, albeit still nowadays the lack of visibility is attributed to them, as it is sadly the case for many female architects. She is an inspiration for many of them, despite the fact that she distanced herself from the feminist movement, claiming she never felt discriminated for being a woman in Brazil, after having worked for more traditional architects in Italy.
Although her works challenge conventional categorization into architectural styles, they vividly reflect and explain her ideology, style, and philosophy. As an architect, Lina Bo Bardi showed enhanced sensitivity towards defining diffuse boundaries and breaking established limits. Throughout her career, modernity and tradition were equally balanced in her works.
Early works from her stay in Italy and her first works in Brazil, such as the Glass House rather reflect the delicacy and refinement that could be considered typical of her contemporary European architecture. Talking about the impact Brazil had in her later works, Lina herself describes the process of attempting to eliminate “the cultural snobbery that is so dear to contemporary intellectuals and architects.”1
The Glass House exemplifies this early period of her work, built while the influence of the vernacular architecture of her new home in Brazil, was just starting to have an impact on her built works. The search for transparency and the predominance of vitrified surfaces in order to dematerialize the building in its environment was no longer present in her later works, in which transparency and simplicity embrace a completely different sense.
It is, however, an example of her ability to integrate seemingly contradictory elements to reinforce the character of her work. Casa de Vidro was the first house to be built in the Morumbi neighborhood. The Atlantic Forest freely extended along the natural topography of the site. In order to preserve the steep natural topography, steel pilotis support the front of the building, floating like a transparent box among the trees, while the massive walls of the rear façade touch the ground. In such a way the building establishes multiple dialogues between the exterior and the interior using transparency and opacity.
Beyond helping ventilation purpose for the rooms facing the interior of the house, the patio also answers the purpose of creating a dialogue between nature and construction by letting pre-existing trees coexist with the house. The integration of the changing nature inside the architectural construction is likewise distinctive of Lina Bo Bardi’s work. In her opinion, buildings remained in an unfinished state, while being empty of people and nature.
In her later works, such as the previously mentioned building for the SESC and the MASP her conception of architecture as a social discipline becomes more obvious, as she started to reinterpret the concept of simplicity in modernist architecture.
Far from the intention of rejecting modern architecture, Lina’s work strives to strike a balance between modernity and tradition embracing elements of Brazilian vernacular architecture and regional specific materials while nevertheless admitting the need to adapt to modernity and the new national reality of a Brazil facing the end a 20-year military dictatorship.
Regardless of the rawness attributed to the daring cantilevered concrete slabs covering a 74meter span in the building for the São Paulo Museum of Art, and the shocking strangeness of the SECS-Pompeia at first sight, these buildings at the same time reflect vernacular austerity and warmness appealing the users’ sensitivity.
The former brick drum factory reclaimed for the people to house the SESC and the void which is created, below the floating building of the MASP are considered donations to the city of São Paulo, spaces that foster human interaction. This approach places users of the buildings and inhabitants of the city in the center of Lina Bo Bardi’s work.