Friday, June 14, 2024

The lure of the late Luis Barragán, Mexico’s superstar architect

A friend of mine and I recently visited Casa Gilardi in Mexico City’s leafy and tranquil San Miguel de Chapultepec section. Casa Gilardi was the final project of Mexico’s lauded  architect, Luis Barragán. He completed it when he was 80 years old. 

The house is hard to miss, with its bright pink facade contrasting greatly with the otherwise muted pastel dwellings that line the street. A giant jacaranda in full blossom erupts from what appears to be the roof, which, upon further inspection, is actually a courtyard separating the living quarters from the indoor pool. 

Architect Luis Barragan
Luis Barragán, was the first Latin American to be awarded the Pritzker Prize, considered by many to be the “Nobel Prize for architecture.” (Wikimedia Commons)

In the true style of Barragan, colors play an important role, and their shades dramatically shift according to the dancing rays of the sun. It’s a true masterpiece, and this is coming from someone with little to no appreciation or understanding of architectural genius. 

More memorable was the passing comment that my friend, Mexican through and through, made as we entered the house with a group of about 18 rather trendy and noticeably eager visitors.

“I’m the only Mexican here.”

I didn’t even need to scan the crowd before nodding my head in agreement. That undeniably perky North American accent pierced my eardrums from every single angle. We’re simply everywhere, front row and center.

pop star Dua Lipa visiting Museo Luis Barragan in Mexico City
Even pop star Dua Lipa has been hit by Barragan fever; she visited the Museo Luis Barragán last year while doing concerts in Mexico City. (Dua Lipa/Instagram)

But I knew this would be the case. Because…Barragán.

When did Barragán fever sweep the expat art nation? 

Aside from the architect’s celebrity status within Mexico itself, he was the first Latino to win the Pritzker Prize in 1980. And a quick Google search reveals a long-term love affair between the New York Times and Barragán’s revered role in contemporary architecture.

The artist Jill Magid’s tenacious and ongoing attempt to access his archives (held under lock and key by the Swiss furniture company Vitria) was chronicled in her documentary “The Proposal,” released in 2018 at the Camden International Film Festival,   . 

And with the country’s surge in expat popularity during the pandemic, it’s no surprise that the foreign creative crowd would flock to the doors of what has effectively come to be known to internationals as Mexico’s version of Frank Lloyd Wright. 

And for good reason. His work, like all good art, gets you thinking. By toying with varying hues, light, angles and the flirtatious interplay between design and nature, Barragan’s masterpieces promote a lifestyle threaded with intimacy and tranquility, one that must have had an especially high appeal to people fleeing the chaos of Covid-19. 

Faro del Comercio in Monterrey, Nuevo León
Barragán also designed public spaces, like the Faro del Comercio in Monterrey, Nuevo León. (Wikimedia Commons)

Nor is his clear and obvious respect for the surrounding nature lost on the viewer. Like the aforementioned jacaranda, he worked boldly with Mother Nature’s elements by incorporating them into his projects, and often used her geography as his focal point.

So who is the mysterious man behind Mexico’s structural gems? 

Barragán was born in Guadalajara in 1902. He earned a civil engineering degree but bolstered his knowledge with the skills he needed to dive into an architectural career. Throughout his 20s and early 30s, Barragán traveled throughout France, Spain and Morocco, where his penchant for Mediterranean and North African design would make a lasting impact. 

In 1936, he moved to Mexico City, where he stayed until his death in 1988. Considering himself a landscape architect, Barragán’s draw to nature and landscapes stemmed from a deep devotion to religion and beauty. 

His private life is just that, private, and while there are speculations as to his sexuality, it’s difficult to track down concrete evidence of any value.

And perhaps that’s apropos for an introverted man whose life was seemingly dedicated to the honing of his untouchable craft.

Torres de Satelite in Mexico state
The Torres de Satelite in Naucalpan, México state. (Wikimedia Commons)

If you find yourself in the World Design Organization’s World Design Capital of 2018, here is a list of Luis Barragán’s properties that are open for public perusal:

  • Casa Pedregal (formally Casa Prieto Lopez, designed in tandem with Diego Rivera): Av. de Las Fuentes 180, Jardines del Pedregal, CDMX. To set up an appointment, email [email protected]
  • Jardines del Pedregal: Calle Fuentes, Agua y Cráter, Pedregal, CDMX. Entry is free during the park’s opening hours.
  • Casa Barragán (his former house and studio): Gral. Francisco Ramírez 12–14, Ampliación Daniel Garza, Miguel Hidalgo, CDMX. Reserve entry ticket ahead of time on the website.
  • Casa Gilardi: General León #82 entre Rafael Rebollar y Tiburcio Montiel, Ampliación Daniel Garza, Miguel Hidalgo, CDMX. Reserve entry ahead of time on the website. Cash payment only.
  • Casa Cuadra San Cristóbal: Look familiar? This sweeping private ranch hosted a Louis Vuitton photoshoot in 2016. Located at Cda. Manantial Ote. 20, Mayorazgos de los Gigantes, 52957 Cd López Mateos, Municipio Atizapán de Zaragoza, México state. Accessible only by private tour. To schedule, contact The Traveling Beetle at [email protected]
  • Capilla de las Capuchinas: Miguel Hidalgo 43, Tlalpan Centro I, 14000, Tlalpan, CDMX. Call for opening hours: +525555732395
  • Bethany Platanella is a travel and lifestyle writer based in Mexico City. With her company, Active Escapes International, she plans and leads private and small-group active retreats. She loves Mexico’s local markets, Mexican slang, practicing yoga and fresh tortillas.  Sign up for her (almost) weekly love letters or follow her Instagram account, @a.e.i.wellness
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