An architect draws: Zeuler Lima on Lina Bo Bardi

Lina Bo Bardi (1914–1992), Design for museum ramp adaptation, Bahia Cinema Club, MAM-BA (Bahia Museum of Modern Art), Salvador, Brazil, 1960. Instituto Bardi/Casa de vidro, São Paulo


An architect draws: Zeuler Lima on Lina Bo Bardi

Authors: Paula Kupfer and Paulina Pardo Gaviria

PhD Students in History of Art and Architecture

On Saturday, January 18, scholar Zeuler Lima offered reflections on the legacy of Italian-born architect Lina Bo Bardi (1914–92), in particular on the importance that drawing held in her practice. Bo Bardi, who emigrated to São Paulo with her husband Pietro Maria Bardi in 1946, is best known today for her architectural designs for the Museum of Art of São Paulo and SESC Pompeia, a popular cultural center and sports complex, also in São Paulo. The current exhibition at CMOA, Lina Bo Bardi Draws, curated by Lima, includes a comprehensive timeline of Bo Bardi’s architectural projects and showcases close to one hundred drawings.

As Lima’s approachable presentation made clear, drawing was an instrumental medium for Bo Bardi from an early age and throughout her life. She sketched city scenes, was drawn to botanical motifs, and left behind drafts of unbuilt structures on paper. She also used this medium to reflect on architectural practice as a whole.  For instance, in the drawing La cámara dell’architetto (The Architect’s Room, 1943), Bo Bardi represented examples of architectural styles spanning centuries, including classical Greek temple designs inhabiting the same modern room with a miniature version of Villa Savoye, Le Corbusier's quintessential modernist house. Her interest in sketching botanical elements, which initially offered a respite from the daily experience of a Rome in ruins during fascism, would manifest strongly in her interest in organic architecture beginning in the late 1950s, which she pursued after settling in Brazil. 

In addition to her work on paper, in his presentation Lima highlighted Bo Bardi’s important work with periodical publications. In the early 1940s, Lina Bo lived in Milan, where she collaborated with architect Carlo Pagani and edited the Italian design magazine Domus; during these years she further developed her concerns with domesticity, nature, and vernacular and industrial design. Years later, after becoming an established architect and exhibition designer in São Paulo, Bo Bardi founded the arts and architecture magazine Habitat. This platform allowed her to disseminate her work, engage in international discussions about modernist architecture and its connections to art, and further develop her interests for graphic design and illustration.

During his presentation, Lima reflected on Bo Bardi’s training as an architect, which given the constrictions on the practical application of construction in 1940s Italy focused on intellectual debates and design strategies. Lima’s assertion that Bo Bardi was a “generous humanist who saw architecture as a field of relations” is evident in the drawings included in the CMOA exhibition, most of which feature people, plants, and daily objects inhabiting the designed spaces. The richness of the material curated by Lima suggests that for Bo Bardi drawing was not only a vehicle for architecture design but the ideal medium to wonder about the multiple ways we move in space.

Seeing nearly one hundred drawings of Bo Bardi is a rare opportunity that should not be missed. Greater emphasis throughout the exhibition and in Lima’s talk on Bo Bardi’s achievements and the relevance of her contributions––in architecture and exhibition design, as well as publishing periodicals for international circulation––would have better situated the role that these drawings played in Bo Bardi’s creative and professional practice. Her engagement with a specific place and with the social relevance of the built environment was nonetheless transmitted to Lima’s audience, both in his presentation and the exhibition in the Heinz Architectural Center on the second floor of CMOA.

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