Luis Barragan, Mexican Modernist

“Any work of Architecture that does not express serenity is a mistake.” -Luis Barragan

Regarded the “most prominent” Mexican architect, Mexican Modernist, Luis Barragan (b. 1903), was known for his colorful, modernist homes outside of Mexico City.  Barragan, one of nine siblings from a wealthy Mexican ranching family, was an aesthete from an early age.  In a local newspaper, he was quoted as saying that he would notice “the play of shadows on the walls…and how the look of things changed.”

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Luis Barragan

After graduating from the Escuelo Libre de Ingenieros in Guadalajara in 1923 with a Civil Engineering degree, Barragan traveled to Europe and lived in Morocco where he was exposed to Mediterranean and North African architecture.  He was also introduced to the writings of landscape architect, Ferdinand Mac, as well as meeting Le Corbusier, both of whom would be influential throughout his career.  But unlike Le Corbusier, who believed a house should be a “machine for living,” Barragan believed his homes should be a “refuge” and not a “cold piece of convenience.”  Barragan eschewed the trend of functionalism and minimalism, and devoted his life to creating “emotional architecture.”  A gifted landscape architect, he developed his own style using “natural siting,” taking great care to incorporate the natural features of the landscape into his buildings.

Barragan’s designs were also reflective of the Mexican climate and culture.  The harsh climate necessitated “structural simplicity” and “few materials.”  The intense sun and wind, as well as economic restrictions were major influences.  Barragan, instead, used this to his advantage.  The walls of the courtyards would block the winds and serve as canvases for sunlight and shadows.  Walls were placed so that sun would cast a variety of shapes onto the courtyards throughout the day.  Using hidden openings to capture sunlight, shafts of light would serve a dual purpose of art and lighting. 

In addition to being a gifted architect and landscape designer, Barragan was a talented furniture designer, although he only designed for individual projects.  

His work has been described as “poetic,” “mythical,” and “monastic.”  Barragan’s devotion to  Catholicism can be seen in his work.  He created homes, as well as religious spaces, that  reflected quietude and meditation.

Barragan was an intensely private man so little is known about his personal life.  Anecdotes point to a kind, but somewhat eccentric man.  He was a generous gift-giver and he supported and encouraged fellow artists by commissioning works for his projects and personal home.  He wore English sport coats and ascots, and was known to cancel lunch plans “if the light was not right.”  

In 1980, Luis Barragan won the “nobel prize of architecture,” the Pritzker, “for his commitment to architecture as a sublime act of the poetic imagination.”

Luis Barragan died from complications due to Parkinson’s Disease in 1988.  

“Solitude.  Only in intimate communion with solitude may man find himself.  Solitude is good company and my architecture is not for those who fear or shun it.” -Luis Barragan

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