Like no other country of its size, Brazil has projected its character to the world through modern architecture – the government buildings and housing projects of Brasília, the skyscrapers along São Paulo’s broad Avenida Paulista, the pleasure palaces of Rio’s Sambódromo and Maracanã stadium. We think we know the look of Brazil. For all the beauty of Copacabana and the Amazon, Brazil in our imaginations is a built environment, one where International Style modernism was souped up with plunging curves, organic detailing, and lush greenery.
One woman in particular can help us expand our view not just of Brazil but of modern architecture at large. Lina Bo Bardi, an Italian-born architect with an uncommon commitment to building for society’s needs, was just getting her practice started when Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer began to adapt international modernism for local purposes. But while Brazilian architecture went through its utopian phase, Bo Bardi stood at a distance, constructing some of Brazil’s most incisive and successful buildings not just in the richer south of the country but in her beloved Bahia, in the culturally vibrant but economically disadvantaged north. She has been called “the most underrated architect of the 20th Century,” and in this centenary year of her birth, she is finally getting the broader attention she deserves.