Almost three decades after her death, architect Lina Bo Bardi (Rome, 1914-São Paulo, 1992) has been celebrated as never before in this difficult period of the pandemic. In Brazil, she won two biographies and her beloved Museum of Modern Art in Bahia, the MAM in Salvador, was reopened, of which she was the founder and first director, where she worked from 1958 until the 1964 military coup.
Abroad, she was honored with the Special Golden Lion of the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale, whose motto this year was the question “How will we live together?”. It is a remarkable feat —a woman with built works had never received the honor—, given to an architect who preferred to be called an architect, without the gender variation, because that is how it is used in Italian.
In the first days of August, it was Sesc Pompeia, idealized by Lina, that won the international spotlight. The center for conviviality, leisure and cultural attractions, inaugurated in two phases, in 1982 and 1986, in the west of São Paulo, appeared in a list of the 25 most relevant post-war architectural projects in the world, according to the The New York Times.
It is not new, of course, that Sesc Pompeia draws the attention of specialists. In a report by EL PAÍS, in 2014, Anatxu Zabalbeascoa cited the work as one of three —with the São Paulo Museum of Art, Masp, and the Glass House— that deserve to be visited by those who have only one day in São Paulo. Paulo to see Lina’s work. The trio would form a good summary of the architecture of the Italian woman living in Brazil.
For the exhibition’s curator, Lebanese architect Hashim Sarkis, Lina’s trajectory, which is not limited to architectural projects, bears the marks —and points to paths— of some of the urgent problems that the world needs to face. “His career as a designer, editor, curator and activist reminds us of the architect’s role as organizer and, more importantly, as builder of collective visions. Lina Bo Bardi also exemplifies the architect’s perseverance in difficult times, whether wars, political conflicts or migration. And his ability to remain creative, generous and optimistic throughout the process”, he justified.
Dona Lina’s work, as she was called on the construction sites, is not extensive, in terms of the number of buildings, however, it has great repercussion and “long duration”. The result of more than four decades in which she lived and worked in Brazil, starting in 1947, when she moved to São Paulo, married to the Italian gallery owner and critic Pietro Maria Bardi, after living the traumatic experience of war.
Lean, averse to ornaments, direct in words and lines, Lina Bo Bardi summarized in a text the way she sees the craft, learned at the Artistic Lyceum and then at the Faculty of Architecture in Rome, where she graduated in 1940. “ I see culture as socializing, eating, sitting, talking, walking, sitting in the sun. Architecture is not just a utopia, but it is also a means to achieve certain collective goals”, summarized Lina, always more attentive to content than to form.
His move to Brazil resulted from the hiring of Pietro Maria Bardi to create the Masp at the invitation of the journalist from Paraiba, Assis Chateaubriand, a politician and communications magnate, a kind of Brazilian Citizen Kane of the first half of the 20th century.
Masp had two offices, the first opened in 1950, in the so-called old center of São Paulo, a few years after the arrival of the Bardi couple. And the current headquarters, opened in 1968, has been a city landmark for decades. It was also Lina’s most grandiose project, built on the busy Avenida Paulista, a road considered for a long time the best symbol of local fortune, with a 70-meter free span and reinforced concrete structure, a material preferred by Lina, who considered it “ alive, able to breathe”. With the additional advantage, in the Brazilian case, of resisting the humidity of tropical and subtropical regions for decades and decades.
Exposed to frequent political disruptions in South America, Lina Bo Bardi was the type to take sides, whether in architecture or politics. And so it would be directly affected by the abrupt changes that forced it to alter its trajectory more than once.
In 1964, the architect leaves aside the long periods she spent in Salvador on work and returns to São Paulo. In 1968, when national politics deteriorated for good, a few weeks after the inauguration of the Masp, Lina would live her share of the nightmare Brazil has gotten into, after the so-called Institutional Act number 5 (AI-5), decreed by the military.
AI-5 would open the most violent and arbitrary phase of the Brazilian dictatorship. In a matter of days, Lina would come to be seen as a danger to society, after her name appeared in testimonies, usually extracted under torture, from militants who mentioned Lina’s discreet support, who offered the famous “glass house” , the modernist residence in which he lived with Bardi for decades, another high point of São Paulo’s architecture, now open to visitors, for political meetings then prohibited.
According to biographer Francesco Perrotta-Bosch, author of Lina Bo Bardi – A Biography (Editor However), in the first days after AI-5, the architect would be taken to the Army’s headquarters for clarification. “It was investigated in an inquiry into members of the armed groups Aliança Libertadora Nacional (ALN) and the Revolutionary Popular Vanguard (VPR),” the author wrote.
Faced with the risks posed by her stay in the country, Lina was forced to leave Brazil, having stayed in Italy for more than seven months. “His status was that of an outlaw,” says Perrotta-Bosch. As a result, his arrest was decreed, which did not take place. Even so, the architect had to live with the ghost of the military process for several years.
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As Lina Bo Bardi herself said, Sesc Pompeia, originally called Sesc Fábrica da Pompeia, was a rare and successful case of industrial archeology in the country, with no tradition in the area. “When I went to visit the factory, I saw that it was the only example in Latin America of Hennebique concrete, with those stirrups, an international thing of the greatest importance, with perfect conservation, very beautiful”, said Lina in a statement collected at the end of her life. “The idea of industrial archeology is in the air, in the international field, that is, getting to know not only buildings with historical or artistic value, such as the Brazilian baroque, in the case of Brazil, but also centers with documents of a historical and social nature ”, summarized.
At the invitation of the reporter, architect Marcelo Carvalho Ferraz, partner at the Brasil Arquitetura office and Lina’s assistant between 1977 and 1992, comments on video how it was to work with the architect, her work and the architecture “at the service of people” that Lina practiced.
The tour discussed took place at the end of June. “I was recommended by a professor to work on the SESC Pompeia project. Lina had been out of work for a long time, had suffered a military process during the dictatorship, and, in 1977, she was invited to design the Sesc Pompeia project”, recalls the architect. “I came as a student, there were already workers peeling the walls, and I find a woman running all these men, 300 workers, with engineers and everything, and I was immediately fascinated by working here. It was a job that lasted nine very complete years”, says Ferraz. For the architect, Lina would have “died a second time, of heartbreak” if she had lived to see what is happening in the country ruled by Jair Bolsonaro, the antithesis of the Brazil she sought to take off the drawing board.
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