On November 22 we commemorate one more year of the disappearance of one of the most important architects in Mexico. What makes Luis Barragán special as a benchmark for Mexican art and architecture? We review 5 keys to understand his work, as dazzling as it is poetic.
Barragán transformed his memories into buildings. The architect and architecture critic Fernanda Canales mentions that the architecture of Barragán, “recounts the journeys of her childhood through the farms of Guadalajara, the horseback rides, the stays at the paternal ranch of Los Corrales and in the family home of Chapala, where he absorbed sounds and was fascinated by the shadows.” In this sense, the architecture of Barragán is an experience: the inhabitant dialogues with the space as if it were a living entity capable of transmitting emotions.
2. Personal poetics
Winner of the Pritzker Prize in 1980, Barragán was far from theorizing about architecture: many of his most emblematic works recover color and Mexican popular art from a personal experience. Barragán was not interested in technical innovations. Nor did he believe that architecture should project social discourses. However, literary and philosophical references can be traced in his work: Marco Aurelio, Blaise Pascal, Paul Claudel, Marcel Proust… The buildings he designed were accompanied by a rigorous supervision of interior design and decoration. He left nothing to chance because he wanted his inner world to be reflected in all the spaces he conceived.
3. Public / private
Barragán was an architect and urban planner, but he was very clear about what he wanted with the relationship between exterior and interior spaces. In his buildings he did not seek a dialogue between them: Barragán sought that, even in open spaces, spatial conditions became private experiences. Fernanda Canales mentions, “Committed to the gaze of memories, loaded with existential elements, its architecture establishes an intimate relationship –beyond reason– between the environment, the user and their things.”
4. Barragán House
The Barragán House is an emblem of Mexican architecture and art. It is not only a space for the historical memory of architecture but also a place where art exhibitions have been held. Barragán House was, before anything else, a place to experiment. This architectural laboratory constitutes the matrix where the architect explored the relationship between architecture and nature. A mirror or a costume? Both. The Barragán House soon became a fortress to create the most powerful artistic expressions and develop an essay instinct: provocative and constantly changing. In his own words, “My home is my refuge, a piece of emotional architecture, not a cold piece of convenience.”
5. Theatricalization of space
For the Mexican architect, spaces were the possibility of projecting images that were not necessarily real. The masks as objects that hide an identity but that, at the same time, are part of it. The Capuchin Convent (1952-55) is a synthesis of these interests. The place fuses concepts related to the mystical, the religious and the contemplation. For Barragán, architecture is a means to reach transcendence by projecting mysterious meanings. Today we still look at their buildings and wonder if they are trying to tell us something. The answer is fatal: they only tell us what we keep within ourselves.