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Work / Opinion

Why London studio Julia is off to Brazil, to see a mid-century magazine through modern eyes

Next month the co-founders of design studio Julia will travel to Brazil for six weeks to research — and relive —  modernist architect Lina Bo Bardi’s seminal mid-century art magazine, Habitat. As part of the British Council’s annual Fellowship grant, which funds creatives to visit Brazil and explore aspects of Bo Bardi’s work, the trio will use her pioneering editorial work as a starting point for delivering its own publication on the country’s culture, from an outsider’s perspective. Julia’s Hugo Timm discussed their plans for the trip with It’s Nice That.

Habitat is somewhat of a printed witness of Lina’s process of discovering and questioning a country. She came to Brazil as an outsider, and her approach to the magazine was interesting for Brazil because it was about aspects of the culture and local vernacular that natives took for granted or didn’t consider worth writing about. These were things she couldn’t find in Europe, and in Habitat she brought a fresh outlook on the country. 

She looked at things like theatre, music, design, and indigenous customs of Brazil. She questioned the roles of buildings, institutions, museums, public space, from the viewpoint of someone in close contact with cultural debates of the time — her husband Pietro Maria Bardi established and ran the Sāo Paulo Museum of Art, and Bo Bardi designed it. At first Habitat was broadly cultural, changing after her editorship ended to a more traditional architecture magazine with little resemblance to the early issues. Now the only physical copies of that period are in a couple of institutions in Brazil, it’s very rare to come across. 

So for our fellowship, we are the outsiders. Even though I’m Brazilian, it’s ten years since I left and the country is very different now. We’re using Lina’s editorial approach as inspiration, going there and following the same line of enquiry as she did, looking at the architecture, music, cinema, design and culture, and asking what happened to those things she wrote about, and what became of those thoughts and questions. We’ll take bits of her original ideas and bring them to today’s Brazil, to see how it has responded, contradicted or carried on her theories.

We’re presenting her work as the trigger for investigation, we’ll try to see the country through Habitat lenses, but in the end it’s our eyes, so it will be different. The idea is to gather content, establish the connections, commission photography, and then later in the year transform it into a published project. The British Council and the Instituto Lina Bo e P. M. Bardi are kindly funding the research, but the publishing part will be another undertaking, and it’s going to last longer than the trip. We leave in a month, all three of us, and the others (Valerio Di Lucente and Erwan Lhuissier) have never been to Brazil but they’ve heard me talk about it so much. It’ll be interesting to see what they think, and how it’s changed. 

Julia is a London-based graphic and spatial design studio, which has worked on art direction for the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), Elephant Magazine and books for the Hayward and Whitechapel galleries.

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Habitat magazine

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Habitat magazine

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Habitat magazine

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Julia: graphic design for the ICA

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Julia: poster design for Arika