ZEULER LIMA: I probably would say that she was a humanist designer, and that’s a species that is close to extinction.
I am Zeuler Lima and I am the author of Lina Bo Bardi, Drawings, the catalog and scholarly book accompanying the exhibition “Lina Bo Bardi dibuja” at the Joan Miró Foundation.
I don’t know exactly when she first started drawing, but the first drawing that can be found of hers is when she was nine years old. And curiously it’s a very dramatic drawing. It’s a drawing of a dead tree, and the title is written in Italian: albero morto. It’s actually a watercolor. It’s signed Lina Bo. And it was done when she was nine years old. It’s probably a copy of some kind of image that she saw perhaps in her house. Her father was a painter who encouraged her a lot and taught her a lot of her early skills. But I’ve always asked myself, why would a child who is nine years old draw a dead tree? I think it’s quite fascinating.
If you look at drawing in her case as a language in general, but in her case as a language that she’s acquiring, she’s using it to process in her early age the world around her, to understand it, to create relationships with people. And to understand her own feelings. She drew many dramatic images of women in very striking situations and we don’t know what generated those. But if we look at the imagery, it has nothing to do with architecture. It probably had to do with her internal moods.
Later on she went to the lyceum, or the artistic academy, to get training in the classical way of drawing. So she acquired incredible skills and she really shows that she can draw according to the classical conventions. There are only two records of drawings she did in architecture school. And there are not enough to let us understand exactly what she produced during that period. We only know more what happens after that. She left architecture school in Rome and she moved to Milan in 1940. That allowed her to develop drawing a lot because she ended up working for magazines. A month after she moved, the first bombardments happened. So she used to say, she decided to become an architect when nothing was built and everything was destroyed.
And then she arrives in Brazil with this baggage of this Milanese experience that is very connected to a way of publishing of that is perhaps more Swiss than Brazilian. When she encountered architects such as Oscar Niemeyer or Lúcio Costa, they were surprised to see a woman coming with such precise drawings and they somehow disdained a little bit of that, saying, You have too many drawings. Here in Brazil, we go to the site and we use a stick and we draw with a stick on the dirt.
And she was absolutely fascinated by that idea. And in the 1950s, she became very interested in the discussion about organic architecture. She traveled outside of São Paulo where she lived and she went to Salvador, where she found a lay culture; and she was absolutely fascinated by that. She was very romantic. And so after the 1950s and sixties, she started to let go of these conventions of classicism and rationalism that she had acquired very early on. And the final drawings have a lot of similarity with the joys of her childhood. So they are very free. They are very intense. They are very expressive. We tend to associate with this naive art, but I think they actually something different. They are, perhaps, the opposite. They are drawings of great wisdom. They are drawings that don’t need to affirm a lot of things. They are drawings that really let go of conventions, because that’s how she ended up believing that architecture and culture should be organized. That it is not an imposition, but is actually about reading the world.
This is actually the epilogue to the book. It is a quite beautiful drawing. It is a poster that she conceived for SESC Pompéia, which is the factory that she converted into a leisure center in São Paulo. And it’s a very simple drawing. It shows the logo with the four letters “S,” “E,” “S,” “C” spelled in orange-red. And there is a smoke stack-slash-water tower. And, surprisingly, from the smokestack, there are flowers coming out of it instead of fumes and smoke. And this was her conception for the factory, because the factory used to have a smoke stack that was torn down. They fell. So they needed to build a water tower, because those towers are quite high. And the way of celebrating how she imagined this gift that she was giving to the city of São Paulo was to make it pleasant, to make it inviting, to make a wonderful to the people.
We have a few here that are projects that she did for MASP, a museum of art in São Paulo, which is this structure that is lifted from the ground and has a span of 276 feet. One of them is showing the conception of the plaza. So, how this plaza can be used for a sculptures and public art and people gathering under it. And then we also have this interest in nature: the park that is across the street will come under this plaza and the space is also inhabited ambiguously by the park and by the city, by pedestrians and by cars. Everybody is somehow present. And then the sculptures. We have this dramatic effect of the same space showing this exaggerated one point perspective. And then on the side we have a very interesting drawing of this same space, which was done 15 years after the museum was concluded to celebrate the 1922 Modern Art Week that took place in São Paulo. So this was the 50th anniversary, and her way of celebrating that was to bring a circus of a very famous clown who had influenced the early modernists in Brazil and place it where she imagined public events taking place. And this actually was done.
To Lina Bo Bardi, architecture did not have only a formal connotation. Of course, she pursued formal ideas and she drew looking for them. However, that’s not where architecture stopped for her. Form and space in her conception of architecture was to be inhabited. And she wrote in the 1950s or sixties that human beings are the protagonists of architecture, and I think that this phase is a very telling about how she drew from everyday life and how architecture was to embrace it instead of determining how people would live.
Writing her biography, previously, in these 20 years, I think it was my self-education about architecture. Because I was 17 when I first saw SESC Pompéia and I was mesmerized. And I was not educated to think like her, but I had this incredible affinity. So writing a biography and and plunging into all this material, reading about her life and getting to know all these documents, was a way of having a very intimate connection with someone who I never knew, but actually who taught me a lot.
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Zeuler R.M. de A. Lima
Princeton University Press in association with the Fundació Joan Miró
Zeuler R.M. de A. Lima is an educator, scholar, architect, artist, curator, writer, and above all a humanist. He received his professional and doctoral education at the University of São Paulo School of Architecture and Urbanism and post-doctoral education in Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Lima is author of the acclaimed biography Lina Bo Bardi (Yale University Press, 2013) and publications in international books, exhibition catalogues, and journals. He has held teaching and research appointments at the University of São Paulo, Ecole d'Architecture de Grenoble, Columbia University, University of Michigan, Tokyo Hosei Daigaku, and Washington University (St. Louis and Florence). He is a curator of architecture exhibitions, including the show “Drawn by Hand: Architecture according to Lina Bo Bardi” at the Fondació Joan Miró Barcelona, produced in tandem with the book Lina Bo Bardi, Drawings (Princeton University Press, 2019). Lima develops work in drawing, artist's books, and conceptual art, including the current exhibition “Found in Translation” (Tokyo, Spring 2018; St. Louis, Winter 2019).
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