The Golden Lions for this year’s Venice Biennale of Architecture are a double-header: Spanish architect Rafael Moneo and Italian émigré Lina Bo Bardi. Announced ahead of the event’s May 22 start date, the former award honours a firm favourite, a great architect and much-admired figure who is 83. The latter award is belated recognition for an architect who died in 1992 but has gained more complete appreciation in the decades following her death.

Moneo is the refined, gentlemanly and urbane architect of myth. He designed Madrid’s Atocha Station and Prado Art Gallery extension, the Museums of Modern Art and Architecture in Stockholm as well as the magical National Museum of Roman Art in Merida, western Spain, a rare building which incorporates and matches the scale and grain of Roman architecture. He has been an influential teacher, writer and designer.

Bo Bardi, born in 1914, was an Italian who made her name in Brazil, notably in her adopted home city of São Paulo. As well as an architect, she was a writer, editor and designer of everything from furniture to jewellery. Her best buildings — the São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP) and the SESC Pompéia cultural and social centre — have become, since her death, among the most referenced and influential buildings of the late 20th century.

MASP is lifted up above the ground to allow the city to run beneath it, giving shelter to markets, events, protests and picnics, and has become part of the crowded city’s network of open spaces. The galleries, with their recently restored glass “easels” — transparent stands for canvases — allowed visitors to wander among them in three dimensions and perceive the paintings as a continuous landscape of art. The easels have been criticised and admired in equal measure and were recently reinstated after a series of brutal redesigns.

At SESC Pompéia (1977-86), she adapted a huge industrial structure, adding sculptural, Brutalist concrete volumes to create a landscape of leisure: cafés, a pool, theatres and spaces for discussion and conviviality. It was the modernist dream of a flexible, open and extremely public social and cultural venue that does not dictate use but rather accommodates it. Starting on site in the same year the Pompidou Centre was finished, it was arguably the Paris building’s Brutalist counterpart: equally confident and perhaps even less exclusive, one of the great 20th-century public spaces.

Moneo, who was born in 1937, has been well-lauded — receiving the Pritzker Prize, the Riba Gold Medal and the Praemium Imperiale — but Bo Bardi was perhaps a victim of sexism. It is a belated award, given at the instigation of Biennale director Hashim Sarkis, and it is difficult to know exactly what such posthumous recognition does, apart from salving the conscience of an architecture establishment finally coming to terms with the holes in its history. But it does, at least, indicate an appetite for change and a tinge of guilt for having overlooked Bo Bardi for so long.

Venice Biennale of Architecture, May 22-November 21, labiennale.org