Sitting Pretty: The Agile and Artful Playfulness of the Bardi’s Bowl Chair

The chair is "a reflection of the late architect’s vibrant spirit and a creative fusion of her two cultures."

by Tyler Watamanuk
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Mar 14 2019, 3:17pm

When the Bardi’s Bowl Chair made its debut in the mid-20th century, the dominating aesthetic was rigid angular forms and strict upright positioning. But while most furniture designers veered one way, the multidisciplinary Lina Bo Bardi went another, opting to introduce rounder shapes that would encourage a natural and more relaxed posture. Despite the chair’s relatively simplistic design, the concept was considered quite revolutionary at its time—and the semi-spherical chair is still regarded as such to this day.

Bo Bardi was a modernist architect, who was born in Italy but permanently relocated to Brazil in 1946. Less than a decade later, she had produced the Bowl Chair, a design that is—intentionally or not—quite emblematic of her signature style. Much of Bo Bardi’s work strived to not be stagnant décor, but rather to be an agile and adaptable item within one’s home. The Bowl Chair plays right into this and is essentially composed of four separate pieces: a steel frame and a stackable seat that contains two circular cushions. The frame and seat can be adjusted to suit the desired position of the sitter: angled downwards to nest up with a good book or faced upright to have a conversation sitting across from someone. It looks pretty damn good when no one is sitting in it, too.

The first iterations of the chair included a black leather version, which is the one most associated with Bo Bardi’s original vision. Another early version of the chair opted for a more eccentric finish: a transparent shell complete with bright red pillows. Both of these inaugural chairs can been found in São Paulo at the striking glass-fronted Casa de Vidro, Bo Bardi’s former residence, a design of her own accord. After her death in 1992, her husband, the writer and curator Pietro Maria Bardi, donated the property to become the headquarters of the Lina Bo and P.M. Bardi Institute with the goal to promote the culture and arts of Brazil.

Two years ago, Milan-based furniture manufacturer Arper produced a small run of the Bardi’s Bowl Chair. Bo Bardi did not leave detailed design instructions nor precise measurements, so the Bardi Institute collaborated with Arper on producing the design with today’s advancements in production. There is something about the chair being produced for new generations without rigid instructions that feels true to the ethos of Bo Bardi. This chair—lighthearted, flexible, and focused more on human interaction than following rule-like design principles—has become one of the most strikingly playful designs of the genre. It’s a reflection of the late architect’s vibrant spirit and a creative fusion of her two cultures—not to mention, one hell of a chair.