She Drew While Designing and Designed While Drawing

Review of Lina Bo Bardi Draws at the Heinz Architectural Center

By Robyn Engel AIA Posted on February 20, 2020

Lina Bo Bardi, L’ombra della sera, 1965

Lina Bo Bardi was a vivid, new name to me prior to exploring the phenomenal exhibit brought to the Carnegie Museum of Art by the Heinz Architectural Center. Learning about her and her impressive oeuvre, however, imparted upon me a sense of awe and gratitude. The sheer span and depth of her portfolio is stunning, all saturated with color and conceptually vibrant. She was a true Renaissance designer and her work feels effortless and radiant, regardless of subject: from stage sets to chairs, to buildings.

The collection, beautifully curated by Zeuler R. Lima, unfolds with such tenderness and attention to detail, that each showcased piece feels valued – by curator, and by creator. Influenced by the ruins and gardens of Rome as well as Antoni Gaudi later in her career, Bo Bardi gravitated toward organic architecture related to nature and the human body. This unifying thread can be read across her incredible grasp of the genre, shown gracefully throughout one of her notable built projects, the Museum of Art of Sao Paolo. Combined with her ability to channel the sublime, like in “L’Ombra della Sera,” (above) Bo Bardi’s ability to craft a compelling visual narrative is framed beautifully in this display. 

Lina bo Bardi, MASP (Museu de Arte de São Paulo), 1968

Like Bo Bardi’s humanistic approach to design, the displays weave a depiction of her as rich and as warm as the art and architecture she produced. Eschewing influences of Italian Fascism and her mother’s insistence on traditional gender roles, she was a bold designer and versatile architect. Says one of several informative signs in the hall, “she drew while designing and designed while drawing.” The exhibit similarly seeks to educate and explore aspects of Bo Bardi’s life and career in an organic way, all while governed by logic – an aspect of the architect’s work superbly mirrored in the exhibit itself. According to Bo Bardi, “human beings, not buildings, should be the protagonists of architecture.” In this way, the exhibit also paints a vibrant silhouette of Bo Bardi as a woman and a designer, rather than showcasing only the eighteen buildings that came to life during her career.

Not one to be missed, this is an impressive retrospective of a woman with immense value to modern architecture, design, and thinking. As the gallery guide says, the display reveals her “comprehensive conception of architecture and design, merging different artistic sensitivities, embedded in nature and everyday life, and accessible to all people.” In this way, so too does this show, replete with a maker station inviting visitors to be part of a creation, and curation, of their own. It is a delight to see diverse designers showcased at the CMoA, and perhaps by visiting an incredibly tuned exhibit, more diverse designers will be inspired to join our ranks in the future. Thanks, Lina. 

Are you a designer in Pittsburgh and identify as female? Come Drink and Draw with Lina Bo Bardi on February 27th from 6-8 pm with Women+ in Design Pittsburgh.  For more information check out for an amazing community of local women+ in design.

Robyn Engel, AIA is a project architect at IKM Architecture in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Ms. Engel is an ardent reader and most recently served as jury chair for the 2019 Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize.

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