Canadian Architect

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Lina Bo Bardi: Together

Through photographs, artifacts and film, this exhibition at the Graham Foundation in Chicago examines the inclusive approach to design taken by the late Italian-Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi.

July 1, 2015
by Leslie Jen

Lina Bo Bardi's own Glass House (1951) she designed in the Morumbi district of So Paulo, Brazil.

Lina Bo Bardi’s own Glass House (1951) she designed in the Morumbi district of So Paulo, Brazil. Photo by Ioana Marinescu, courtesy of the Instituto Lina Bo E P.M. Bardi

TEXT Leslie Jen

Quite unlike most architectural exhibitions, Lina Bo Bardi: Together offers a radical departure from the standard drawings-and-models presentation format we have come to expect. Instead, we are treated to an intriguing composite of films, sculptures and photographs by a variety of participants that either document the buildings by Lina Bo Bardi, the exhibition subject—or are inspired by them. Curated by architect Noemi Blager and designed by the collective Assemble, Lina Bo Bardi: Together first launched in London at the tail end of 2012, and toured several European countries before landing at Chicago’s Graham Foundation in April of this year. Here, the domestically scaled rooms of the historic Madlener House (1902) enhance the intimate nature of the exhibition itself.

Lina Bo Bardi in Kamakura, Japan in 1978.

Lina Bo Bardi in Kamakura, Japan in 1978. Courtesy of the Instituto Lina Bo E P.M. Bardi

Born in Italy, Modernist architect Lina Bo Bardi (1914-1992) immigrated to Brazil in 1946 with her husband Pietro Maria Bardi, a writer, curator and art collector. Overshadowed by contemporary Brazilian practitioners such as the prolific Oscar Niemeyer, Bo Bardi nevertheless distinguished herself with a number of significant buildings that continue to resonate in present day. Her deeply humanistic, inclusive and multidisciplinary approach to design is captured in this exhibition through the contributions of photographer Ioana Marinescu, filmmaker Tapio Snellman, and Madelon Vriesendorp, artist and cofounder of OMA.

The rooms on the main floor of the Graham Foundation feature an assemblage of photographic works by Marinescu that document Bo Bardi’s own Glass House (Casa de Vidro) of 1951 that she designed for herself and her husband in the lush, heavily forested Morumbi suburb of São Paulo. The house is an unsurprisingly elegant Modernist icon, a glazed open-plan structure rising above its sloping site on slender pilotis. Light emanates from the large images representing various aspects of the home’s interior and exterior, and they seem capable of transporting the viewer directly into the spaces of the house. Conceived to display the eclectic range of art and artifacts that the couple amassed over the years, the residence is still an ideal perch from which to observe the diverse life forms inhabiting the surrounding rainforest.

A still from Tapio Snellman's film SESC Pompeia depicts urban life in and around Bo Bardi's monumental building.

A still from Tapio Snellman’s film SESC Pompeia depicts urban life in and around Bo Bardi’s monumental building.

Another still from Tapio Snellman's film SESC Pompeia depicting urban life in and around Bo Bardi's monumental building.

Another still from Tapio Snellman’s film SESC Pompeia depicting urban life in and around Bo Bardi’s monumental building.

Upstairs, in the smaller darkened rooms, films by Snellman are being screened. They offer a moving depiction of Bo Bardi’s industrially inflected SESC Pompéia Leisure Centre (1982) and the immediate streetscape, revealing the colours, textures and vibrancy of life in São Paulo, and the people who populate that vast city. Comprised of three imposing concrete towers augmenting a restored crumbling factory building, SESC Pompéia draws the street and public life into its spaces; it is a welcoming facility that remains accessible to all classes and demographics, a striking embodiment of Bo Bardi’s goal of erasing aesthetic and social hierarchies.

Objects created by Brazilian children at workshops conducted by Madelon Vriesendorp are on display.

Objects created by Brazilian children at workshops conducted by Madelon Vriesendorp are on display. Photo by RCH | EKH

Rounding out the show are the curious creations by Vriesendorp and others that appear throughout the exhibition spaces. Inspired by Brazilian popular culture and made of metal, catlike demons with pointed ears and long tails stand guard in many of the rooms. Echoing Bo Bardi’s own inclusive approach, Vriesendorp conducted workshops in Salvador, Bahia in the Bo Bardi-designed Solar do Unhão, Museum of Modern Art of Bahia (1959), engaging the children of the community to produce sculptures out of recycled cardboard. Rich in colour and detail, the resulting pieces lend a touch of whimsy and are a fitting complement to Vriesendorp’s metalwork and other collected artifacts by Brazilian craftspeople on display.

An exhibition room at the Graham Foundation contains photos and artworks by Ioana Marinescu and Madelon Vriesendorp, and two Arper-manufactured Bowl Chairs designed by Bo Bardi in 1951.

An exhibition room at the Graham Foundation contains photos and artworks by Ioana Marinescu and Madelon Vriesendorp, and two Arper-manufactured Bowl Chairs designed by Bo Bardi in 1951. Photo by RCH | EKH

As the main sponsor of the show, Italian furniture company Arper has recently launched the Bowl Chair in the United States. Originally designed by Bo Bardi in 1951 but never manufactured until now, the chair epitomizes the elegant simplicity characteristic of its designer through its adjustable semi-spherical form. In partnership with the Instituto Lina Bo e P. M. Bardi in São Paulo, Arper has produced a limited edition of 500 chairs in a multitude of colours and textile options—three of which are on display for a “test drive” on the ground floor.

Lina Bo Bardi: Together is an evocative, intimate and engaging portrait of a figure whose boundless inspiration and embrace of a rich and diverse culture is reflected in her architectural legacy. Though long overdue, Bo Bardi is finally—posthumously—gaining recognition for her remarkable contributions to her adopted country of Brazil.

Lina Bo Bardi: Together continues until July 25, 2015 at the Graham Foundation in Chicago, and will subsequently tour other venues in North America.