You could be forgiven for thinking that the most important thing that architect Lina Bo Bardi ever did was construct remarkable buildings. The native Italian practiced largely in Brazil in the post-World War II era until her passing in 1992. (Bo is her family surname. Bardi is her married surname.) While her output was fewer than 20 buildings, it includes key adventurous milestones of design that explore the rich relationships between modernist rigor and an essentially Brazilian vernacular.
However, the current show at the Heinz Architectural Center emphasizes that Bo Bardi’s practice spread way beyond architecture, including curating, illustration, publishing, botany, urban design, and more. It does so by focusing on her works on paper: Lina Bo Bardi Draws runs through March 29.
Bo Bardi was a curator before anything else. An early study for a furniture exhibition at the Milan Triennale from 1946 shows her using suspended colored textiles to define space with drama and economy in one of the exhibit’s most characteristic images, while pulling displayed objects away from walls for viewing in open space. She engaged both approaches throughout her career, and the exhibit design in HAC, with metal tubular scaffolding, plywood panels, and suspended textiles, reiterates these approaches meaningfully.
Even more importantly, Bo Bardi was an egalitarian who sought out substance and genius in folk crafts of Brazil, viewing them as achievements on par with designated masterpieces of academic art. She saw in them the potential to inspire new technical achievements in design. Her concrete and vernacular structures would take on values of arquitetura pobre, not impoverished, but rather fortified in the absence of pretense.
So a rough-edged drawing plans the skeletal risers of the spiral staircase in the Solar do Unhão in Salvador, Brazil, of 1963, elevating local craft traditions of joinery, literally and figuratively, for the powerful and didactic showcase vertical circulation piece that does get built in a museum meant to be as much a teaching space as a repository.
And a plan for preservation of the Pelourinho District of Salvador, Brazil, materializes first as endearing vignettes where endearing squiggles of people anchor the sense of place in gentle color washes, with architectural details appearing only as occasional flourishes.
We can see in Bo Bardi’s early career as a Modernist that she can engage the hard-line severity of standard architectural convention when necessary. Yet she invariably has a particularly expressive control of calligraphic ink lines, with nuances that radiate palpable joy.
Bo Bardi herself declared, “[U]ntil a person enters the building, climbs its steps and seizes the space in a ‘human adventure’ that develops in time, architecture does not exist. It is a cold, dehumanized scheme.” The emphasis on participation is real and sincere.
And yet look at the illustration Camera dell’architetto, or architect’s room of 1946 and realize that Bo Bardi’s contemplation of a bunch of precious architectural baubles is completely accomplished yet utterly unfettered. She not-so-secretly loves the high-style stuff as much as anyone.
Lina Bo Bardi’s drawings open the doors of architecture and art to all comers with such enthusiasm that they neglect to kick anyone out.