Books: An Unheralded Brazilian Modernist

By Michael Webb

Lina Bo Bardi. Zeuler R.M. de A. Lima (Yale University Press, $65).

Niemeyer aside, Latin American architecture has received far too little attention in the US, so this scholarly monograph on Lina Bo Bardi (1914-92) is especially welcome. It examines the career of an architect who won attention as a critic and designer in her native Italy, moved to Brazil in 1946, and struggled to realize a radical vision. In her 45 years of residence, she completed only 14 projects, but they include a house of rare distinction and two major public works, all in the city of São Paolo. The MASP Museum of Modern Art comprises glass-walled galleries suspended from two massive, long-span concrete frames, shading a public plaza and revealing the park beyond. The SESC Pompeia Leisure Center is an adult play structure: two raw concrete volumes linked with bridges and lit from biomorphic openings.

The structural daring and lively invention of these monuments makes one wish that the circumstances of Bardi’s life had been more propitious. As a Communist, she was out of favor in fascist Italy and came perilously close to arrest under the military dictatorship in Brazil. She was a woman in a macho profession, a populist in a society run by and for the elite. It’s a marvel that she was able to maintain her integrity and realize several unique buildings. Lima, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, was a close friend and has researched Bardi’s life and era in great detail to produce this impressive profile. It makes one wish that she and others would do as good a job on other architects who created Brazil’s Modernist legacy. And one hopes that Bardi’s growing reputation will encourage local authorities to take better care of her buildings.


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