• Spaces of transcultural resistance: alterity in the design practices of Lina Bo Bardi and Alison and Peter Smithson

Hall, Jane, 2019, Thesis, Spaces of transcultural resistance: alterity in the design practices of Lina Bo Bardi and Alison and Peter Smithson PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

This thesis investigates alterity in the approach to architectural design of the Modernist architects Lina Bo Bardi in Brazil and Alison and Peter Smithson in the UK at a pivotal moment at the beginning of their careers in the early 1950s. The obvious connection between Bo Bardi and the Smithsons is the unusual way both architects set themselves up in practice by repurposing prewar European Modernism in relation to urgent concepts and ideas that foregrounded a sociological approach to architecture on each side of the Atlantic. Positioned against the prevalent orthodoxies of European Modernism, Bo Bardi and the Smithsons it, is argued, reoriented architectural discourse towards process and methods of production in search of new ways to instrumentalise architecture as a way of shaping society. Lina Bo Bardi sought to integrate the African culture of the Brazilian northeast, addressing the dichotomy of the late postcolonial situation found there, while the Smithsons developed both archaeological and ethnographic ways of thinking about architecture in relation to the everyday reality of postwar London.

While there has been much focus on the localised nature of their individual practices, this thesis looks instead at how their parallel engagement with multiscalar networks expanded their spatial reach in global terms. This is because what is interesting about a comparative study today is precisely the transcultural narrative in the current literature that suggests both architects as archetypal models for resistance against the current hegemony of the professionalisation of architecture as a global phenomenon. This anachronistic framing however is problematic in that it tends to neglect the relationship between the local conditions of production in their work, located not least within the context of different geographies and cultures from one another, which in turn negates architecture’s relationship to sites of capital accumulation de fining of the globalising era.

Cultural institutions founded in the immediate postwar period in both Brazil and the UK give context to this study, with the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP) in São Paulo and the Institute for Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London representing the intersection of global politics with emerging forms of economic and cultural modernity. As such the thesis investigates both Bo Bardi and the Smithsons’ involvement with these respective institutions as a means to uncover the contradictions inherent in their characterisation as marginal historical figures, given their centrality to such new sites of power. In relation to Bo Bardi this is explored through her instrumentalisation of the museum as a school, coupled with an innovative use of print media in the form of the museum’s catalogue Habitat Magazine. While in the case of Alison and Peter Smithson two projects Parallel of Life and Art (1953) and Patio and Pavilion (1956), produced in collaboration with artists Nigel Henderson and Eduardo Paolozzi are drawn upon to explore the couple’s perceptive manipulation of their relationships as a self-positioning tool within the Independent Group (IG) at the ICA.

Within the context of emerging scholarship that asserts ever-expanding definitions of alternative practice in architecture, the thesis argues for the expansion of this discourse to encompass the co-constitution of political solidarity and consciousness as part of the professional identity of the transnational architect. By accounting for the historical development and conceptual significance of the work of Bo Bardi and the Smithsons, this study contributes new insights into the history of alternative practice. It therefore challenges canonical historiographies in order to reveal the dialectic between globally significant institutions, which it is shown shaped the multiple modernities defining of modern architecture in both countries.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Architecture > K100 Architecture
School or Centre: School of Architecture
Date Deposited: 21 Jun 2019 13:42
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2020 15:58
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/3943
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