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The ‘As Found’ and ‘The Ugly’

Non-Linear Time in the Post-War Curatorial Practices of Architects Alison Smithson and Lina Bo  

Danae Santibáñez 

The post-war period fuelled global transdisciplinary critical thinking, in architecture up-and-coming architects Alison Smithson and Lina Bo developed radical curatorial projects that criticised modernity’s linear historical time approach. While Smithson’s contribution in the collective exhibitions ‘Parallel of Life & Art’ (1953) and ‘This is Tomorrow’ (1956) defined the ‘as found.’ Lina Bo’s ground-breaking ‘glass easel’ (1947-1968) an expography for the MASP Museum, along with the exhibitions ‘Bahía’ (1959) and ‘Nordeste’ (1963) introduced the concept of ‘the ugly.’ Although the ‘as found’ experiments with archaeology and ‘the ugly’ with anthropology, both concepts adopt a non-linear time approach to challenge modernism’s functional linearity and re-think inhabitation based in the architectural programme and the collective experience. 

This thesis is about non-linear time in curatorial practices and what kind of spatial relation it builds. Founded in a transdisciplinary approach, this research draws from art history to establish methodological connections with the theory and production of architecture. Through a detailed analysis of Aby Warburg’s non-linear method, I will expose the means he uses to materialise it spatially. Consequently, I will follow some initial patterns with more detail, by inspecting two case studies of post-war non-linear curatorial practices: Alison Smithson in England and Lina Bo in Brazil. While a 2018 thesis already associated both architects to investigate alterity in the architectural design approach,[1] a 2019 publication investigates the display design of the architects’ exhibitions, as part of a bigger cultural milieu.[2] This report focuses on discovering what kind of architectural relations can be drawn from the curatorial practices of the architects informed by non-linear time, whilst giving space to their overlooked personal critical theories. 

In this research I will focus on researching Alison Smithson’s and Lina Bo’s non-linear approach to their post-war curatorial practices. I am recognizing two areas that have been left out of previous literature and investigations. The first one is a matter of where to place the non-linear approach within the architectural cycle of a project. Former and contemporary readings of the non-linear time have ubiquitously addressed the architecture project itself. This approach is present in heritage and restauration methods and lately, in the multithreaded or a non-linear digital design process. Conversely, I will place my research in a theoretical and experimental area of architecture that focuses is a transdisciplinary methodology of associations, rather than the materiality of what is built or will be built. Secondly, to complete views that have been exiled or diluted by collaborations, this research is conducted from the singularity of Smithson’s and Bo’s creative characters. 

Given the above, this report works around two hypotheses. The first assumption considers that both Smithson’s and Bo’s curatorial methods develop a unique spatial scheme based on its relational capacity, informed by Aby Warburg’s non-linear approach. The second hypothesis infers that because of Smithson’s and Bo’s own intersectionality as female architects within the post-war context, both of their critical views were somehow overlooked and exiled from architectural history. 


Therefore, this investigation raises questions that relate with the theorization of design, the production of space and the relevance of author-self. In terms of design principles, the main inquiry is how does art history’s non-linear approach inform architecture? Then to fully understand its impact on space I will work with two questions: what kind of programme does the non-linear approach impart upon the exhibited and the space? And what does this programme mean in architectural terms? To review the importance of considering both architects singular views on curatorial practices, I ask why were they left out? And how is their revalorization relevant now? With all these inquiries I am opening to discussion alternative methods that critically review contemporary issues of the built environment. 


Hence, why is this relevant now? I have three main objectives that I aim to achieve with this dissertation, all of them are embedded in contemporary discussions. The first one is placed within the ongoing discussion about the commodification of architecture and the kind of relationships it promotes. Therefore, the core objective of this report is to analyse and consider how the application of non-linear time approaches enable the formulation of healthier and inclusive relations in the built environment. Complementary to the former, I aim to contribute with a critical review of what do visual aesthetics mean for culture and contemporary society. Lastly, my purpose in re-tracing overlooked singular theories aims to bring back diversity and subjectivity as part of the formulation of the built environment. As well as to challenge authorship as a modern product by re-thinking the impact of personal contributions informed by feminist theories.[3]

Following the hybridity of the hypotheses and research questions, I will employ a combined methodology to unpack this investigation. On the hand I will use an iconological approach to investigate the meaning of the spatial relations produced by non-linear curatorial practices. Consequently, to broaden the scope after having identified some connections among theories, I will use a study case methodology focalising in the curatorial practices of Alison Smithson and Lina Bo, framed in the post-war context. Considering that this investigation is focalising in analysing theoretical and spatial production from the perspective of the creator persona. This report will not contemplate the use ethnographic resources or interviews because they relate more with the user perspective.


The structure of this thesis is consciously organised based on thematic associations and not chronologically.  Every chapter is organised in sections, being the first section always a contextual analysis of the main subject of the unit. The first chapter presents the origins of modern linear time to introduce the non-linear time critique. After which I review modern architecture exhibitions based in their conceptions of time and design display. The second chapter starts by identifying Aby Warburg’s method as a non-linear curatorial approach based on a scheme of relations. The second part of this unit follows common points between Warburg’s model and Alison Smithson’s and Lina Bo’s post-war curatorial approach. In chapter three, deconstructs both study cases by establishing, curatorial approach, curatorial programme, and it’s the meaning. The last chapter reflects on the relevance of singular contributions, informed by feminist theories of non-linear time. 

[1] Jane Hall, ‘Spaces of Transcultural Resistance: Alterity in the Design Practices of Lina Bo Bardi and Alison and Peter Smithson’ (PhD diss., The Royal College of Art, 2018). 

[2] Penelope Curtis and Dirk van den Heuvel, Art on Display 1949 -69 (Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, 2019). 

[3] Carys J.Craig, ‘Symposium: Reconstructing the Author-Self: Some Feminist Lessons for Copyright Law', Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law 15, no. 2 (2007): 207-268,. 

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