Along with the customary attention that accompanies a centenary, several events have converged to make a revisit of Bo Bardi's legacy timely and significant. The Brazilian economic boom in the first decade of this century has attracted international starchitects to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo for the first time since Le Corbusier traveled to Rio to work on the Ministry of Education and Health building in 1936. This, coupled with Brazil's preparations for the World Cup to be played in 12 cities next month and the Olympic Games in 2016, has precipitated urban redevelopment and infrastructure investment and focused international interest on the rich legacy of Brazilian Modernism (and the country's emerging generation of architects) to a degree not seen since the inauguration of Brasília in 1960. Finally, the death of Oscar Niemeyer at the age of 104 in 2012 has permitted other strands of Brazilian architecture to emerge from his long shadow, which dominated the country's design culture for almost three generations.
Born Achillina Bo in Rome in 1914, the architect's formative years were spent near the nerve center of the political crosscurrents of Fascist Italy. Her education at the University of Rome combined a steeping in the city's ancient monuments with the rationalist principles that were taking hold in 1930s Italy. Drawn to Milan's more progressive and cosmopolitan architectural circles, Bo Bardi moved north in 1940 and spent the war years as an editor and graphic designer, working with Gio Ponti, among others. It was in Milan that she met Pietro Maria Bardi, an art dealer and journalist 14 years her senior. Soon, however, Bardi, confronted with the reality of Italy's postwar devastation and seeking to escape association with his Fascist alliances before the war, looked to South America as a new place to develop his artistic and curatorial activities. A 1943 exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art, Brazil Builds, had highlighted developments in Brazilian Modernism and brought the country to the Bardis' attention. The possibility of curating three art shows in Rio de Janeiro in 1946—including one in the recently completed Ministry of Education and Health building—was enough to entice the two Italians to plan an extended stay in Brazil. They married before departing.