The pioneer modernist architect and designer, who passed away in 1992, will receive a posthumous prize at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale.

Text by: Gilda Bruno

Photographer unknown, Lina Bo Bardi’s birthday, São Paulo, Brazil, December 5, 1989. Courtesy Instituto Bardi/Casa de Vidro.

Lina Bo Bardi, the Italian late modernist architect, designer, scenographer, artist, and critic naturalised as a Brazilian citizen, is the winner of the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale’s Special Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. 

Meant to celebrate her pioneering contribution to the international architecture scenario, the award is set to be granted in memoriam to Bo Bardi during the 17th edition of the much-awaited Venice Architecture Exhibition — opening its doors to the public coming May 22nd. 

“If there is one architect who embodies most fittingly the theme of the Biennale Architettura 2021, it is Lina Bo Bardi,” Hashim Sarkis said in a press release. The curator of this edition of the Venice Architecture Biennale, Sarkis was the one who recommended the Italian-born architect for the special award. 

“Her career as a designer, editor, curator, and activist reminds us of the role of the architect as a convener and importantly, as the builder of collective visions,” Sarkis further explained in a statement published on the Biennale’s website. “Lina Bo Bardi also exemplifies the perseverance of the architect in difficult times whether wars, political strife, or immigration, and her ability to remain creative, generous, and optimistic throughout.” 

Born in 1914, Achillina Bo, known as Lina, grew up in Rome where in 1939 she graduated in Architecture at the Royal School of Architecture, today’s Sapienza University of Rome. She began her career at the studio of Milanese architect and designer Gio Ponti, one of the most widely praised post-war architects in the world, to then open up her own studio which, however, went destroyed during a bombing in 1943. 

In 1944, the modernist architect and designer co-directed Domus, a cultural, architectural, and interior décor magazine founded by Gio Ponti himself, with Carlo Pagani: another one of Ponti’s “disciples” who among the others collaborated with Bo Bardi in running her weekly magazine AAttualità, Architettura, Abitazione, Arte

Lina Bo Bardi, Study for furniture design at Milan Triennale (detail), ca. 1946. Courtesy of INSTITUTO BARDI / CASA DE VIDRO.

An activist of the Italian Communist Party, Bo Bardi devoted the early years of her career to documenting the brutality and destruction brought about by the war, eventually joining the National Congress for Reconstruction. 

In 1946, she moved to Brazil with her husband Pietro Maria Bardi, an Italian journalist, gallerist, and art critic that, from then onwards, would share some of the architect’s most noteworthy successes; including modern architecture icon Casa de Vidro (Glass House), the almost floating-in-nature building known for its beautiful glass facade and columns, and the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (The São Paulo Museum of Art), the huge experimental public space designed out of concrete and glass of which Pietro Maria Bardi was the curator. 

“The phenomenal life and work of Lina Bo Bardi have long addressed the central question of this year’s International Architecture Exhibition: How will we live together?” reads the incipit of the press release shared by São Paulo’s Instituto Bardi after learning about the award. 

Established in 1990, the institute aims at handing down the meaningfulness of Lina Bo and Pietro Maria Bardi’s interventions in the Brazilian cultural scene while also promoting the study and research in the areas of architecture, design, urbanism, and traditional Brazilian arts and crafts.

“The global pandemic has undermined the use of the iconic public places Bo Bardi designed in Brazil that have been serving communities and citizens for decades,” the statement continues. 

“We hope that the 2021 edition of La Biennale will help to even better contextualise and communicate the depth of Lina Bo Bardi’s critical view of the world: always caring for the least culturally represented, consistently aware of the importance of diversity in art and architecture, and committed to a multidisciplinary approach to architecture bringing together people from all walks of life.” 

The symbolic award ceremony, originally scheduled for last May 23 and postponed due to COVID-19, will take place on May 22 as part of the Biennale Architettura 2021’s opening night.