Radical Pedagogies: Lina Bo Bardi’s Theory of an Immediate-Life-Architecture (1957)

ArchDaily is continuing our partnership with Radical Pedagogies, an ongoing multi-year collaborative research project led by Beatriz Colomina with a team of PhD students of the School of Architecture at Princeton University, presenting a series of paradigmatic cases in architectural education. In this fourth example of Radical Pedagogies in Latin America, Vanessa Grossman (PhD Candidate in History and Theory of Architecture at Princeton University) presents Lina Bo Bardi's application for a chair at the Faculty of Architecture and Urban Studies of the University of São Paulo. Although the application was rejected by the faculty commission, the submitted essay still is a singular source of new ideas for architectural education.

"We performed hitherto a sort of tour throughout time and throughout the “theories” of architecture, dwelling upon one of the aspects and modes of interpretation: the critical aspect. But the experience of teaching has led us to assume, among students, a certain impatience. This impatience we know very well: it means that we no longer feel the sap flowing from the past, that we have almost constitutionally “cut the roots,” that the natural habit of a calm and methodical study no longer exists, despite the consciousness of an acquired cultural heritage. It is the impatience of those who no longer want to know things that do not produce a result soon, of things that do not serve solutions to the problems of immediate life."

—Lina Bo Bardi, Introduction to “Problems of Method,” the second and final chapter of Propaedeutic Contribution to the Teaching of Architecture Theory (1957) [p. 45 in the 1992 Brazilian edition].

In 1957, Italian-born architect Lina Bo Bardi (1914-1992)—by then already a naturalized Brazilian émigré—completed a ninety-page essay to submit with her application for the position of chair for the Theory of Architecture at the University of São Paulo. The first part of the book addresses the “Problems of Architectural Theory,” whereas the second scrutinizes the “Problems of Method.” Entitled Propaedeutic Contribution to the Teaching of Architecture Theory, the text was eventually published as a little book (Habitat, Ltd. São Paulo, 1957).[1]

Lina Bo Bardi, Contribuição propedeutica ao ensino da teoria da arquitetura (1957)

Originally conceived as a “contribution to the teaching of architecture,” the essay turned out to be both a veritable theory of an “Immediate-Life-Architecture” and a call for (Brazilian) architects to develop an actualized “theory” of their own. The book’s publication was a demonstration of an architectural education liberated from the conventional dichotomy of “theory” and “practice.” Stressing the vicissitudes of past and present, she refuted the teaching of a theory of styles. Every page of the book was designed in the manner of Habitat – Revista das Artes no Brasil, the journal she had founded in São Paulo in 1950. This consisted of a collage of several text extracts and black-and-white images from various temporalities and sources, freely combined: Brazilian 19th-century writers vis-à-vis Italian Renaissance drawings, North-American skyscrapers vis-à-vis the 15th-century Filarete’s Column. The mode d’emploi was set through her own definition of history as “only serving as an old bridge that allows the crossing of a river, not gradually[2] (like the adverb often employed by the Academy of Sciences of the eighteenth century), but suddenly.” Bo Bardi argued through Propaedeutic that this threshold could be more easily crossed in Brazil, a country that had warmly welcomed Le Corbusier precisely when European nations like Germany were forcing modern architects such as Walter Gropius to emigrate.

Habitat - Revista das Artes no Brasil 50 (1958)

In the book, Bo Bardi established a conversation with different interlocutors, from Ancient treatise writers like Vitruvius to her contemporaries in Europe and America, particularly in Italy, while at the same time keeping her distance from them. Critical of the “functionalism” already present in Vitruvius, and of what she calls the “Scientificism” of the Modern Movement, she revisited concepts associated with Romanticism. For Bo Bardi, “The Moderns oppose a certain resistance to this concept, perhaps influenced by the old habit of dividing and specializing parts of the world, of things and thoughts. Romantics, on the contrary, understand architecture in a cosmic sense.” Advocating nature “as the primary source for the study of architecture,” she openly criticized Bruno Zevi’s notion of “interior space” to which she opposed Gillo Dorfles’s definition of architecture as typically spaziale. Bo Bardi tended toward what she defined as “total-space”: one that participates in human life. Man, in his turn, is considered as an “actor” in the space of the world.

Bo Bardi later exercised her own “impatience” in Bahia, where she radicalized through her practice the theoretical assumptions fostered in Propaedeutic. The message was mostly conveyed through her work, which followed a very particular path compared to that of her Brazilian contemporaries. Bo Bardi was not awarded the position that inspired her to write this text; she never taught at the University of São Paulo. As historian Zeuler Lima has shown in his biography of Bo Bardi, besides the bureaucratic difficulties she had to face, she knew that her application would not be well received by some faculty members, who saw her as “difficult.” Thus, today one can only imagine, through this document, the pedagogical projects she would have fostered.

Lina Bo Bardi and Pietro Maria Bardi arriving in São Paulo, 1947

* The text reproduced here was written in 2014 specifically for the exhibition Radical Pedagogies presented at the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale (From 7th June to 23rd November 2014) and adapted to its format, with strict word count limits and without bibliographical references.

[1] Bo Bardi lacked a copy of her diploma from the Facoltà di Architettura in Rome, supposedly lost in a bombardment of the office she kept with Carlo Pagani in Milan, as historian Zeuler Lima has shown. See Zeuler R.M. de A. Lima, “Theory and Action” in Lina Bo Bardi (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013) 73-83.
[2] Zeuler R.M. de A. Lima, op. cit., p.74.

Radical Pedagogies” is an ongoing multi-year collaborative research project led by Beatriz Colomina with a team of Ph.D. students of the School of Architecture at Princeton University. It has so far involved three years of seminars, interviews, archival research, guest lectures and almost 80 contributors from more than two dozen countries. In this, and similar research projects conducted by the PhD program at Princeton, architecture history and theory are taught and practiced as an experiment in and of themselves, exploring the potential for collaboration in what is often taught to be a field of individual endeavor.

The third edition of Radical Pedagogies' exhibition, titled "Radical Pedagogies: Reconstructing Architectural Education," is currently on show at the 7th WARSAW UNDER CONSTRUCTION Festival organized by the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. Earlier versions of this show were presented at the 3rd Lisbon Architecture Triennale (2013) and the 14th Venice Biennale of Architecture, curated by Rem Koolhaas (2014), where it was awarded a Special Mention.

About this author
Cite: Vanessa Grossman. "Radical Pedagogies: Lina Bo Bardi’s Theory of an Immediate-Life-Architecture (1957)" 04 Nov 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/775163/radical-pedagogies-lina-bo-bardi-almost-at-fau-usp-1957> ISSN 0719-8884

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