Stones Against Diamonds, published by the Architectural Association, is the first anthology in English of the essays of the remarkable but little-known Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi, writes Laura Mark
More from: The many facets of Lina Bo Bardi
Lina Bo Bardi (1914-1992) was not one for being tied to an architectural movement. ‘Movements can be construed as reactions to rationalist shoe-box architecture,’ she says in a 1967 essay on South America after Le Corbusier.
However, as with many of her contemporaries in the Modern Movement, writing was highly significant to her development. Much of the debate about changing architectural ideals and styles during this time was carried out through the medium of print. Le Corbusier himself wrote nearly 50 books, and Walter Gropius’ seminal text, The New Architecture, defined anew the role of the architect. Writing communicated how the profession was changing.
Given the culture of writing among architects of the time, it is perhaps no wonder that Bo Bardi would become so immersed in architectural writing. At just 25, she began editing the Italian architecture journal Domus. She started writing about, as well as creating, architecture from very early on in her career.
‘Architects do write: they create presentations and descriptions to explain their works, and produce manifestos in which they set out their own position, or praise and denounce the architecture of the past,’ says Silvana Rubino in the introduction to an important new anthology of texts by Bo Bardi.
Stones Against Diamonds, part of the AA Architecture Words series, and named after one of the texts in the book, is the first publication of her writings in English. It follows a successful exhibition of her work at the British Council.
Bo Bardi was not just an architect. She was a critic and a creative thinker. Her writings outweigh her built works, both in number and in significance. She had a curious, hungry mind, and this was fed through writing. Writing provided Bo Bardi with the means to challenge the ideas of Modernism. Through her essays and articles she proposed new parameters for architectural design.
Stones Against Diamonds deftly presents Bo Bardi’s writings in a timeline of her life. Beginning with the start of her career in Italy, we see her move to Brazil, and her time in Bahia and São Paulo. Through these essays and the accompanying photographs and sketches, the book gives a welcome insight into the thoughts of one of the lesser-known women architects.
Originally from Italy, Bo Bardi moved to Brazil in 1946, after the Second World War ended. She rejected dual nationality, relinquishing her Italian citizenship and becoming a Brazilian citizen in 1951 - and her work reflects this, both culturally and politically. Her essays give an insight into the developing architecture of Brazil. (Rubino sums up the ideals with which she arrived in the country thus: ‘Lina Bo Bardi brought the desire to create modern architecture in a young nation - one that had no bad habits and no ruins.’)
Commenting on changing design approaches in her 1944 essay ‘The Design of Interiors’, Bo Bardi writes: ‘Traditional methods of design are gone forever: today the continuing advance of technology is bringing about a rapid transformation in the way we live, putting an end to traditional forms.’
In Italy, she launched her own magazine, with Bruno Zevi and Carlo Pagani, entitled A. After arriving in Brazil, Bo Bardi began editing the journal of the São Paulo Museum of Art, Habitat. It is this work that helped to accustom her to Brazilian life and the architecture of the time. In these articles we can see her developing the beginnings of her understanding of the culture and people of Brazil, something which she was so in touch with, and which can be seen in her built architecture, such as the SESC Pompeia, a cultural centre in São Paulo. In the essay ‘Beautiful Child’, published in Habitat in 1951, Bo Bardi questions the direction of Brazilian architecture. ‘The new Brazilian architecture has many flaws: it is young, it hasn’t had much time to stop and reflect, but came into being all off a sudden, as a beautiful child,’ she writes. Her writing - whether about her own built work or that of others, or about the masters of the time - always related back to Brazil and its development.
Bo Bardi’s writings were short and sharp and, as Marcelo Carvalho Ferraz puts it in the afterword: ‘simple, direct, concise and economical’. They are refreshingly straightforward to read but offer a wealth of ideas which give insight into Lina Bo Bardi, both the architect and the thinker.
Book: Stones Against Diamonds, by Lina Bo Bardi, AA Publications, 132 pages, £15.00
‘Stones Against Diamonds’ (1947)
‘My love for Brazil has fuelled my love of gems. This is a country of marvellous stones, such as the quartz crystals that you can pick up from the ground in the mountains of Minas Gerais, in the tablelands, or even in São Paulo state, where some years ago, I found some really beautiful ones, perfectly polished by nature, serving as gravel underlay for the tarmac being laid on the road out of Itarare.
‘Well, all of this is a prelude for calling for designers in Brazil to start working with these gemstones, which are unjustly tagged “semi-precious”.’
First published in Marcelo Carvalho Ferraz (ed), Lina Bo Bardi (São Paulo: Instituto Lina Bo Bardi, 1993)
‘Beautiful Child’ (1951)
‘We cannot accept, however, that Brazilian architecture is already on its way towards academism, as various foreign views would have it, and nor will it be, for as long as its spirit is in the human spirit and its goal is the improvement of living conditions - for as long as it draws its inspiration from the intimate poetry of the Brazilian land. These are the values that define contemporary Brazilian architecture.’
First published in Habitat 2, January-March 1951
‘Architecture or Architecture’ (1958)
‘But what is architecture if not the most efficient means of combating, through its example, that same social injustice, the very status quo that pained Niemeyer but that he nonetheless felt obliged to contribute to and perpetuate (given his popularity and influence over the young)? Is the modern architect - as a builder of cities, neighbourhoods and public housing - not an active combatant in the field of social justice?’
First published in Diário de Notícias, September 1958