Transformers of the Modern House: Albert Frey and Lina Bo Bardi at the Palm Springs Art Museum

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By Kate Reggev / Published by Dwell
An exhibition at the Palm Springs Art Museum presents a refreshing look at the modern home through the lens of Italian-Brazilian female architect Lina Bo Bardi and California modernist Albert Frey.

What do Italian-born, Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi (1914-1992) and Swiss-born, Palm Springs-based designer Albert Frey (1903-1998) have in common—beyond just the midcentury period in which they worked? This question is the basis of a new exhibit at the Palm Springs Art Museum titled Albert Frey and Lina Bo Bardi: A Search For Living Architecture (running September 9, 2017 to January 7, 2018). Through a study of two houses designed by each architect,  it reveals surprising and compelling parallels in both their visions and designs. 

Transformers of the Modern House: Albert Frey and Lina Bo Bardi at the Palm Springs Art Museum - Photo 1 of 10 - Bo Bardi on the steps of her Casa de Vidro

Bo Bardi on the steps of her Casa de Vidro

As Executive Director of the museum Elizabeth Armstrong points out, both Southern California (where Frey worked) and São Paulo (Bo Bardi’s adopted home) were "architectural laboratories of the mid-20th century." Furthermore, both creatives were educated in Europe in roughly the same period when the modernist movement was becoming a significant force in the world of art and design, which had a strong impact on them. 

Transformers of the Modern House: Albert Frey and Lina Bo Bardi at the Palm Springs Art Museum - Photo 2 of 10 - Bo Bardi's Casa de Vidro nestled in the jungle of São Paulo

Bo Bardi's Casa de Vidro nestled in the jungle of São Paulo


Transformers of the Modern House: Albert Frey and Lina Bo Bardi at the Palm Springs Art Museum - Photo 3 of 10 - The Frey II House (constructed 1963–1964)

The Frey II House (constructed 1963–1964)

As each moved across the Atlantic to work in architecture, they continued this modernist legacy. Additionally, the exhibit suggests that they were simultaneously embracing the social and environmental contexts of the desert dry heat of Palm Springs and the tropical weather of São Paulo. 

Transformers of the Modern House: Albert Frey and Lina Bo Bardi at the Palm Springs Art Museum - Photo 4 of 10 - Lina Bo Bardi's Bardi House (Casa de Vidro) in São Paulo, Brazil, 1949–1952

Lina Bo Bardi's Bardi House (Casa de Vidro) in São Paulo, Brazil, 1949–1952

Of the four homes that the exhibit focuses on, two of them are glass-walled houses that Frey and Bo Bardi designed for themselves, including Frey II House and Casa de Vidro. Both are perched on a hillside, using the modernist language of large panes of glass to contrast with the natural landscape, a rocky hillside in Palm Springs and the rolling hills of a former tea plantation, respectively. 

Transformers of the Modern House: Albert Frey and Lina Bo Bardi at the Palm Springs Art Museum - Photo 5 of 10 - The Frey II House embedded in the rocky hillside of Palm Springs

The Frey II House embedded in the rocky hillside of Palm Springs

The other two homes, Bo Bardi’s Cirell House and Frey’s Aluminaire House, appear physically distinct. However, similar strands can be found connecting the two, from their more opaque facades of textured masonry and metal to their compact, efficient size. 

Transformers of the Modern House: Albert Frey and Lina Bo Bardi at the Palm Springs Art Museum - Photo 6 of 10 - A. Lawrence Kocher and Albert Frey's Aluminaire House in 1931, with a view of the front entrance and double-height living room windows.

A. Lawrence Kocher and Albert Frey's Aluminaire House in 1931, with a view of the front entrance and double-height living room windows.

The museum’s co-curator and Director of Art Daniell Cornell explains, "Frey and Bo Bardi embraced modern technologies," but they also "responded to the climate and terrain of their respective environments." 

Transformers of the Modern House: Albert Frey and Lina Bo Bardi at the Palm Springs Art Museum - Photo 7 of 10 - Exterior of the Valéria P. Cirell House in Morumbi, São Paulo, Brazil (1957–1958) 

Exterior of the Valéria P. Cirell House in Morumbi, São Paulo, Brazil (1957–1958) 

Through a combination of three-dimensional models, drawings, photographs, and other design materials, the exhibition successfully conveys the cross-continental similarities between the two seminal architects, and proves that architecture is a way to connect people, nature, buildings, and lives. 

Transformers of the Modern House: Albert Frey and Lina Bo Bardi at the Palm Springs Art Museum - Photo 8 of 10 - Bo Bardi reclines in her famous Bowl Chair.

Bo Bardi reclines in her famous Bowl Chair.

To supplement the exhibit, versions of Bo Bardi’s Bowl Chair—two of which were originally located in her house in black that are now produced in a limited edition by Arper (a sponsor of the show)—are on display in rich, bold colors reminiscent of Brazil’s tropical climate. 

Transformers of the Modern House: Albert Frey and Lina Bo Bardi at the Palm Springs Art Museum - Photo 9 of 10 - The colorful, tropical-inspired new versions of Bo Bardi's Bowl Chair are now being produced by Arper.

The colorful, tropical-inspired new versions of Bo Bardi's Bowl Chair are now being produced by Arper.

Albert Frey and Lina Bo Bardi: A Search for Living Architecture is being presented as part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA (PST: LA/LA), a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles. Supported by grants from the Getty Foundation, Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA takes place from September 2017 through January 2018 at more than 70 cultural institutions across Southern California, from Los Angeles to Palm Springs, and from San Diego to Santa Barbara. PST: LA/LA is an initiative of the Getty. The presenting sponsor is Bank of America. 

Transformers of the Modern House: Albert Frey and Lina Bo Bardi at the Palm Springs Art Museum - Photo 10 of 10 - A sketch by Bo Bardi shows that she originally envisioned the iconic Bowl Chair to appear in a range of colors and patterns.

A sketch by Bo Bardi shows that she originally envisioned the iconic Bowl Chair to appear in a range of colors and patterns.