by James Way
It was a coincidental night – the first day of spring, five inches of snow, the 100th anniversary of Lina Bo Bardi’s birth, and, to the day, the 23rd anniversary of her death – that brought together some who knew her well to share tales of Bo Bardi’s life and legacy.
To supplement his own education, Dr. Zeuler Lima began investigating Bo Bardi to uncover how one could design as she did. The results show in numerous exhibitions, a film, and a biography that he has produced. Because her interests were so eclectic, Lima devised a timeline that charted her polymath activities; what he found supports Bo Bardi’s conviction of “life as a work of art.” Zeuler showed his documentary film, which focuses on Bo Bardi’s exhibition and curatorial activities and reveals her democratic views on art, artifact, and craft.
Her attention to display is apparent in her theater set designs. Caca Rosset, an actor and theater director who worked with Bo Bardi on a production of Alfred Jarry’s UBU-rei, contends that her limited number of stage designs is very important. Bo Bardi never distinguished between art, architecture, and life, and pursued each with fervor. She favored Jarry as the “only avant-gardist that survives,” and similarly believed in a “positive destruction that is a dialog of reconstruction.” Her reconstruction was a “cannibalization” of her native European culture, digested with her adopted Brazilian references.
Brazilian architect Marcelo Ferraz, who worked for Bo Bardi on the SESC Pompeia in São Paulo, recalled the nine-year endeavor, 1977–86, as “guerilla architecture.” They worked on-site with the construction team, somewhat “medieval” but without bureaucracy, designing, mocking-up, and building. Full of life and personality, Bo Bardi pursued everything with enthusiastic creativity. To dispel rumors that the soybeans being served to her 400 construction workers caused impotence, Ferraz reminisced that Bo Bardi arranged a Franciscan mass to banish the evil eye of the legume, while negotiating the return of native beans. Similarly, when critics attacked her uncomfortable wooden seats, she responded that historical theaters had, if any, stone seats, and that theater is for the mind and imagination, not comfort. Criticism vanished.
Zeuler said she “staged life in her architecture” and found architecture in life. The factory buildings at SESC were already lively centers where people gathered; Bo Bardi kept them, instead of demolishing them, as was suggested. To add vitality, her concrete structure features irregular windows and jagged pour lines – small moves inspired by her travels to Japan, Luis Barragán, and Brazil’s indigenous crafts.
The second evening of the two-part symposium focused on curatorial activities, both by and about Bo Bardi. Renato Anelli, curator and director of the Instituto of Lina Bo Bardi, pointed out that no less than 12 exhibitions are devoted to Bo Bardi’s centenary. Themes range from her approach to folk art, Brazil’s move toward Modernism, and industrialism’s failure to society (think global homogenization and environmental calamity). However, Anelli contends, the unifying factor that makes her so popular now is that Bo Bardi’s architecture was originally “too experimental” in its pursuit of a political statement of multiculturalism.
Giancarlo Latorraca described Bo Bardi’s practice as a pragmatic “way of showing,” as the director of the Museu da Casa Brasileira in São Paulo titled his 2014 exhibition. Latorraca showed a number of Bo Bardi’s exhibitions, highlighting the use of simple materials and techniques to great effect: curtains, cotton ceilings, soft lights, temporary stands, and even leaves. Her exhibitions often included items of popular culture, not to be confused with folk art, but “everyday objects as cultural witness…never as symbolic objects or decoration.” She delighted in juxtaposing “root culture with industrialism.”
“Exhibitions were a place to experience solitude among others,” maintained Ferraz, the only returning panelist from Friday’s program. He related Bo Bardi’s sentiment that architecture was becoming about appearance, not function. Thus her practice became a political tool to battle architectural “simulacra.” In a video produced for his exhibition “Lina Bo Bardi: Political Architecture” at SESC Pompeia, Bo Bardi says, “My basic concern was doing an ugly architecture…not formalism but usable.” However, there is a humorous beauty in her creation of the cultural center within a former factory as a “spatial dialectic of labor and leisure.”
During the closing conversation, Ferraz reminded us that Bo Bardi, despite her interest in the popular, took a particularly intellectual approach from her former career in publishing, as evidenced in her expansive library. When asked how she might react to the attention she is receiving, he quickly bellowed, “Merdre!” (the extra “r” intentional in reference to Jarry’s UBU-rei.). Noemi Blager, curator of “Lina Bo Bardi: Together” (opening April 24 at the Graham Foundation in Chicago), referenced Jorge Luis Borges: “Literature only exists with the reader”; the same, she said, is true with Bo Bardi’s architecture: “It comes to life only when inhabited.”
James Way, Assoc. AIA, Marketing Manager at Morris Adjmi Architects, frequently contributes to eOculus.
Event: Lina Bo Bardi: Visionary Architect
Location: Center for Architecture, 03.20.15 and 03.23.15
Speakers: Marcelo Ferraz, Co-founder, brasil arquitetura; Zeuler Lima, Ph.D., CAU-BR, Associate Professor, Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, Washington University in St. Louis; Cacá Rosset; Founder, Teatro do Ornitorrinco; Silvia Perea, Ph.D., Adjunct Professor, Columbia University (moderator); Hana Kassem, AIA, Director, Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (moderator); Giancarlo Latorraca, Director, Museu da Casa Brasileira; Renatto Anelli, Director, Instituto Lina Bo Bardi; Noemi Blager, Curator, “Lina Bo Bardi: Together”; Yehuda E. Safran, Professor, Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (moderator); and Rick Bell, FAIA, Executive Director, AIANY and Center for Architecture (introduction)
Sponsors: Arper, In Plus Interior, Espasso, Etel, Studio Arthur Casa, Sagewood Construction, Florence Design (sponsors), General Consulate of Brazil in New York, Embassy of Brazil in USA (institutional sponsors), Hotel Americano, Archdesign, The Architect’s Newspaper, Dwell (supporters)
Organizers: AIANY Cultural Facilities Committee