You are on page 1of 4

Architecture; designing the public

In the graduation studio of Methods & Analysis, the overall theme is constructing the
commons. For me, that can be translated in designing the public. By that, I dont mean
designing the people, but what is used by people in their everyday life and what is accessible to
For a studio related course I started among others analysing the SESC Pompia Factory in So
Paulo, designed by Lina Bo Bardi. The aim of the analysis was to look how and why the building is
considered to be designed for the public. A statement that can be derived from the article Citadels
of Freedom (Mosley & Sara, 2014) in which two of Linas So Paulo projects are being reviewed. By
reading more about Lina Bo Bardi and her view on practising architecture and dealing with heritage I
decided to write this paper on the subject of designing the public. Furthermore, the public and the
(public) heritage are important parts of the design for the graduation project I am working on.
The opinion of Lina Bo Bardi will not be reviewed on its own but will be placed side by side with the
roles within the architectural practise defined by Tom Avermaete as well as the opinion of Lcio
Costa concerning heritage. The latter also being a Brazilian architect.
The architect and the public
As read in Tom Avermaetes article on the role of the architect in post-war architecture culture
(Avermaete, 2010), there are several roles an architect can engage in, in relation to the public the
people. The roles he addresses in this article range from the architect who performs as activist to
architects in the role of facilitator. Comparing these roles to what Ive read on Lina Bo Bardi, made it
very clear for me that she is first of al to stay with the term used by Tom Avermaete a syndicalist.
Who according to Avermaetes text is speaking in favour of migrant workers and condemning
their dwelling conditions (Avermaete, 2010). An example for why Lina Bo Bardi can be perceived
as syndicalist can be found in the SESC Pompia complex. In addition to the old factory buildings
that are used for a variety of activities, she designed two new towers containing all sports facilities.
One of the towers housing the sports courts and swimming pool has irregular windows carved
out from the concrete walls (Lima, 2005) merely covered with wooden lattices, referring to the harsh
lives of people who are struggling to make a living. In addition to that, most of the design decisions
are made with the working class in mind since they are the ones that would be using the building.
Parts in which Bo Bardi can be seen as more of a facilitator are the activities that take place in the
complex. These activities based on activities that were happening at the site before the renovation
started (Ferraz): there is place for people to just sit, relax and have a chat near the fire place, people
can have a meal at the communal restaurant tables, they can watch a play or a concert or participate
in one of the many workshops. Besides the very fixed object that define the activities there is also an
abundance of space where people have the option to do whatever they please.
The activities also relate to the company she was making the design for and which in my opinion
also has a slightly syndicalist approach. SESC is a non-governmental organisation which has several
centres throughout Brazil where they provide education, leisure and healthcare to employees of a
national business federation. Therefor the whole design and the encompassing function of the
complex are all in relation to the working class and enhancing their lives.
The topic that I will address in my graduation project is to enhance the liveability in the (old) city
centre of Bogot, Colombia. Hence, the importance of the public realm is undisputed. I dont see my
role as an architect as clear-cut as Lina Bo Bardi. As for now I identify myself more with the role of
the activist aiming at a coherent alternative to the current system based on profit, on the
destruction of a lived memory and culture of the city [], but also social waste (Avermaete, 2010)
wanting to learn from (pre-industrial) cities and architecture without imitating them. Another role
that I find particularly interesting is the role of the architect as facilitator, especially in relation to the
concept of John Habraken concerning support and infill. Where the architect is designing an
overall structure in which the user can make decision according to their personal preference
(Avermaete, 2010). As can be seen in the figure on the following page. Whether this exact concept
can be implemented in my graduation project remains to be seen. It is more likely to use an
approach similar to the one Lina Bo Bardi uses with the activities is the SESC Factory; to leave
enough space for people to define their own activities hence, only supplying them with a place to
do so.

Figure 1 | Molenvliet project by Frans van der Werf. Based on the support and infill concept of John
Habraken (Werf, 1974).

The architect and the (public) heritage

Another issue Lina Bo Bardi has a strong opinion about concerning the public realm is on how to
deal with heritage. In my previous master projects I have always found myself struggling with this
issue. I started out doing projects in the chair of RMIT nowadays called Heritage & Architecture
where I was taught to make valuations on the building(s) and with that, decide what was too valuable
to alter or remove and what had little value and could therefore be transformed or demolished. For
some reason I repeatedly ended up looking at the material character of a place: the overall
arrangement of the building, the monumental doorposts or decorations and so on. What I didnt
realise at that time is that a lot of the value of a place consist of how it was used. Especially when
dealing with public places this is a fundamental way of thinking. One that Lina Bo Bardi goes by as
well. She believed that history only made sense as part of the transformation of the present (Lima,
2005). Meaning that instead of restoring buildings to the state they were in decades ago, by which
they dont function in the current society that well, transforming them into buildings that are part of
the daily life of people living now. By doing that, she ensures that the buildings become as much a
part of modern life as they are a part of history. The way to transform buildings and urban plans was
for her, not necessarily by restoring the doorposts or layout of the building but by re-using its
meaning to the public. Buildings and/or places that are worth keeping are the ones that can be a
part of public life now. As mentioned in the article by Z. Lima Preservation as Confrontation: The
work of Lina Bo Bardi someone with a different view on the matter of heritage is the French-born
Brazilian architect Lcio Costa. Instead of being interested in the use of a place or building, Costa
was all about the tectonics, and historical and contextual roots of it. With regular study trips to
Portugal he seemed to have special interest in the tectonics of Portuguese (colonial) buildings (Del
Real & Gyger, 2013). Even though he mainly acted as a theoretical influence, Lcio Costa wasnt shy
of bringing old colonial buildings together with modernism. In his design for Museu das Misses, he
designed a very modern glass, lightweight building underneath a already existing roof structure.
In this light box, the artefacts from the site are being preserved and on display for people to wander
around between. Whats more, is that not only the artefacts are being preserved but also the
building is, due to its new usage.
Figure 2 | Museu das
Misses by Lcio Costa.
Underneath the old roof
structure a new, modern
building is situated.
Following the rhythm of
the old structure, made out
of new materials.

The perspectives of Lina Bo Bardi as well as Lucio Costas on heritage are very useful concerning my
graduation project. A vast amount of buildings on the chosen site either have monumental value
concerning their tectonics and historical and contextual roots (Del Real & Gyger, 2013) or have a
historical value concerning their usage and place in society. Therefore, instead of focussing mainly
on the tectonics of the place or building, the importance to the public life can be crucial.
This reminds me of the movie La Estrategia del Caracol (the snails strategy) by Sergio Cabrera
(Cabrera, 1993). In the movie a group of people live in an old colonial house and are about to be
evicted since the owner wants to maybe restore or sell it. Instead of finding a new house to live in,
they transfer the full interior of the house to a different place, leaving only the faade. For these
people the value of the house is in the memories they have of it and the people they live with. None
of which have to do with the big wooden front door or antique window frames.
As mentioned in the paragraph titled The architect and the public the graduation project will focus
on the role of the architect as activist and to a lesser extent the facilitator. In the role of the activist
decisions can be made to enhance the life of the people working in area and to attract people to life
in the area again. Mainly by making it pleasant for people to walk around without a too much
dominant role for cars in the form of something like a secondary network and in addition to that
making neighbourhoods within the bigger neighbourhood I am trying to achieve this goal.
The combination of the role as activist and facilitator is crucial in my opinion. By behaving like an
activist the first step toward a liveable city centre in Bogota can be made. Whereas the facilitator can
transform the area into a place where people actually want to be and stay. Some first ideas on how
to this, is by creating playgrounds or parks without a very clear programme but with enough
elements for people to define their individual programme. This way people can assemble their way
of living into a bigger structure according to their personal preferences which is the idea of the
support and infill concept, but on a very different level.
When it comes to heritage it is wise to look at more than just the tectonics. Even though Lcio Costa
was obsessed the tectonics of Portuguese (colonial) buildings he looked at more than just the actual
build ornaments but also the underlying historical and contextual origin. For me looking into
heritage was about learning different point of view on the matter. Where in the past I used mostly
one way of looking at heritage especially Lina Bo Bardis view has opened my eyes in such way that I
stop seeing heritage as something you cannot touch and should be conserved. Heritage is
something we should learn from and should take with us to the (near) future.
The new important question for me, when dealing with heritage will therefore be; does it enhance
the public realm or does it become more of an obstruction? And; can it be transformed is such a way
that current and future generations will use it?

Avermaete, T. (2010). The Architect and the Public: Empowering people in postwar architecture
culture Hunch no. 14: Publicity (pp. 48-63). Rotterdam :: Nai Publishers.
Cabrera, S. (Writer). (1993). La Estrategia del Caracol. Colombia.
Del Real, P. & Gyger, H. (2013). Lucio Costa's luso-Brazilian routes- Recalibrating 'center' and
'pheriphery';Latin American modern architectures ambiguous territories (pp. 20). New York ::
Ferraz, M. The making of SESC Pompia Retrieved 10 January, 2016, from
Lima, Z. (2005). Preservation as Confrontation: The Work of Lina Bo Bardi. Future Anterior: Journal of
Historic Preservation, History, Theory, and Criticism, 2(2), 24-33.
Mosley, J. & Sara, R. (2014). Citadels of FreedomThe Architecture of TransgressionArchitectural
Design, 0003-8504; Architectural design (London, England : 1971). London, England :: Wiley.
Werf, F. v. d. (1974). Molenvliet project.