Spotlight on Lina Bo Bardi

 

Recycling or converting buildings came naturally to Italian-born Brazilian architect, Lina Bo Bardi. Inspired by the use and reuse of basic materials, she devoted her working life to engaging with every facet of culture and designing ‘people-friendly’ buildings. Described as “the most underrated architect of the 20th century”, it is pleasing to see her finally receive the attention she deserves. We take inspiration from Lina Bo Bardi here at RISE Design Studio, particularly her respect for authentic objects and how to preserve and celebrate them in the home.

RISE Design Studio - Lina Bo Bardi

Buildings flowing with the natural environment

In 1951, Bo Bardi created the ‘Casa de Vidrio’ in the rainforest surrounding São Paulo. An early example of the use of reinforced concrete in domestic architecture, she found a Brazilian context for the Italian modernism she was trained in. The landscape ‘flows’ underneath the building and the main living area is almost wholly open, apart from a courtyard that allows the trees in the garden to grow up into the heart of the house (perhaps a source of inspiration for Sverre Fehn’s Nordic pavilion). This celebration of the local environment is a theme that runs through her work.

Engaged public places

Bo Bardi’s designs were used in the the Solar do Unhão cultural centre in Salvador, and the Museum of Art, the Teatro Oficina, and Centro de Lazer Fábrica de Pompéia in São Paulo. In what she termed ‘poor architecture’, she sought to design public spaces that embodied a simple form of monumental architecture. The São Paulo Museum of Art is formed from ‘raw and efficient’ pre-stressed concrete, allowing unobstructed views to the lower-lying parts of the city.

She expertly restored buildings in a manner which neither pandered to nostalgia nor ignored context – the restoration of a 17th century sugar mill into the Solar do Unhão left the colonial exterior intact, with a modern staircase added. This reflected her belief that a museum should be a place for education – an active site of knowledge rather than a mausoleum of the past.

When she was commissioned in the 1980s to turn a burnt out office building into a theatre, she designed the new space almost completely out of painted scaffolding. The intense theatre space is designed to make the members of the audience feel as if they are engaged with the act on the stage.

Simplicity and the historical present

Lina Bo Bardi also designed furniture and she often used plywood and native Brazilian woods in her design. Wanting each object to display its own ‘natural logic’, her designs embodied simplicity and reduction and rawness of material.

Bo Bardi’s work has become much more widely acknowledged in recent years and support has grown for the proper preservation of her buildings. In a lecture at the University of São Paulo in 1989, she was asked to describe her ideas for the preservation of historic buildings. She replied that she sees no such thing as ‘the past’ in architectural practice. Whatever still exists today is what she termed ‘the historical present’ – you have to preserve the typical features and characteristics of a time that is part of our human heritage.

Spotlight on Charles and Ray Eames

 

‘A chair that looks like a crisp’ or ‘a folding screen that ripples’ are descriptions that are likely to bring to mind North American husband-and-wife design team, Charles and Ray Eames. Revered as two of the ‘most important designers of the 20th century’, their ‘grand sense of adventure’ made significant contributions to modern architecture, furniture design, industrial design and the photographic arts. In our ‘spotlight’ series about architects and designers who inspire us here at RISE Design Studio, we share some of the distinct characteristics of the designs developed by the Eames, trying to capture their spirit of ‘way-it-should-be-ness’ (when an object, through hard work and meticulous process, is realised in the incarnation of its ideal state).

RayEames-plywood

Mass-produced furniture

In the early 1940s, the Eames developed designs with a unique synergy that led to a new phase in how furniture looked and how it could be produced. When knowledge of their moulded-plywood method spread at this stage of their careers, they were asked to design moulded-plywood splints, stretchers and even aeroplance parts for the military during World War Two. After exhibiting their experimental moulded furniture at the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1946, the Herman Miller Company in Michigan began to produce their furniture designs. The success of these initial designs of chairs with compound curves meant they went on to design and mass produce over 100 designs for these types of chairs over four decades, perhaps the most famous design being the moulded-plywood and leather lounge chair with matching footstool.

A mecca for modern architects

In 1949, the Eames switched their focus away from furniture, designing and building their own Californian home as part of a Case Study Home Program, sponsored at the time by an American architecture magazine. ‘The Eames House‘ (as it is known today) is where they lived for the rest of their lives and is considered a classic example of modern residential architecture, as well as a ‘must-see’ for today’s architectural students interested in this type of design. Intended as an experiment to realise the design of a house for a young married couple needing a place to live and work, the design of the house is perhaps as visionary today as it was all those decades ago.

From furniture to film and beyond

In the mid-1950s, the Eames began to focus more on their work as photographers and filmmakers. Charles Eames was an exceptional photographer and his photography work clearly permeated into their design work. The couple designed museum exhibitions, including the IBM Pavilion for the 1964-65 World’s Fair in New York and the Copernicus exhibition at the Smithsonian in the 1970s, both of which drew extensively on their photography and film work.

Looking forwards

Although Charles and Ray Eames are no longer with us (Charles died in 1978, Ray in 1988), members of their family run The Eames Office, which works on communicating, preserving and extending their work.

The Eames understood design as a solution rather than a luxury, and as something that is as much about industry as it is about art. Their vision of design that can get ‘the best to the greatest number of people for the least’ is perhaps one of the reasons why their designs are so timeless and why almost everyone recognises their work.