Lowcountry Modern

Elevated Living: A Look At Lina Bo Bardi’s Casa de Vidro

Lina Bo Bardi was born this day in December of 1914 (d. 1992).  Born in Italy, her notoriety as a prolific architect and designer would take shape in Brazil, where she immigrated to in 1946 with her husband, a well-known art dealer and journalist. She would go on to spend much of her career championing the social and cultural importance of architecture and design.




In the same year (1951) she became a naturalized Brazilian citizen, she completed her first built work, her own home known as Casa de Vidro, Glass House, in what is now the Morumbi neighborhood of São Paulo.


Casa de Vidro, Lina Bo Bardi.


So, you may be asking how a house built in Brazil almost seventy years ago by an Italian-born architect is relevant to residential architecture in the South Carolina low country?

There are 3 reasons.

1. Elevated Living

Bo Bardi’s Casa de Vidro isn’t located in a flood zone, but rather situated on a hill that slopes upward to the north. Bo Bardi designed the home so that the main living area is elevated over the lower side of the site, while the bedrooms and servants’ quarters sit solidly on the upper side of the site.


Casa de Vidra, Sections and Plans


Her design solution results in a similar condition that residential developers and homeowners face along our coast due to FEMA’s elevated building height requirements.

Instead of concealing the area below the elevated living space, what Bo Bardi does is to use this to dramatic affect in how the home is experienced. Her treatment of the underside of the house is just as important as the space above, both working together to produce a carefully designed whole.

2. Orchestrated Arrival

The first way Casa de Vidro takes advantage of its elevated living is by a carefully orchestrated arrival. Bo Bardi doesn’t try to disguise the fact that a portion of the home is elevated; she embraces it.




The elevated living area, supported on slender circular columns, seems to float above one’s arrival, sheltered from sun and rain. A delicately detailed stair descends from an opening in the volume above, inviting both visitors and owner alike to ascend into the home.

Visually, the stair suggests entry, not the announcement of such as a front door would typically do. This creates a sense of curiosity and anticipation that ends with a luminous entry made possible by a windowed floor-to-ceiling internal courtyard that faces the entry door at the top of the stairs.




3. Integrated Nature

When the home was originally built, the surrounding land had been deforested. Over time the rain forest returned, surrounding the home with a veil of dappled emerald light that surrounds and unifies the interior of the open living space.




Instead of enclosing the area underneath, as is typically done along our coast, Bo Bardi brings nature under the house, allowing it to continue uninterrupted. The slender circular columns blend with the vegetation, further integrating house and nature while accentuating the effect of the elevated portion of the home.

The open internal courtyard further integrates nature into the experience of the home in two ways: by allowing sunlight to penetrate the underside of the elevated living space, which serves as a contrasting element to the shaded entry stair; and by allowing trees and other plants to grow up through the house.




I’ll be posting about other homes that feature interesting design solutions for elevated living, so check back to read more.


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