MODERNIST MONDAY: Luis Barragán

Welcome back to #ModernistMondays! At TTC, we are constantly inspired by modernist architects and artists from past and present. To showcase some of our favorites, we launched #ModernistMondays, where we highlight one modernist each month to explore with ten quick facts. You can keep up with #ModernistMondays on the TTC Blog, or our Instagram page! Our July selection is Mexican architect Luis Barragán, a master of color, light, and shadow. 

A portrait of Barragán

Luis Ramiro Barragán Morfín was born in Guadalajara, Mexico in 1902. Growing up, his family was conservative and wealthy, and he was one of nine children.  After studying civil engineering at the Escuela Libre de Ingenieros, he began to travel extensively. 

On a post-graduate trip to Europe he became interested in the architecture of Spanish and French gardens. Barragán also took a liking to the works of landscape architect and illustrator Ferdinand Bac, who was known for his comical caricatures. On his next trip to Europe, he connected with Le Corbusier and Bac, who both influenced his work.

Gardens became commonplace in Barragán’s later projects

From 1927 – 1936, Barragán practiced in Guadalajara, primarily working on Spanish-inspired townhouses and villas, including Aguilar House and Cristo House, for a city councilman. The latter now houses the Colegio de Arquitectos of Jalisco.

Exterior and aerial views of the Cristo House

When he moved to Mexico City he began working on a new style of design: “emotional architecture.” Having learned from Corbusier, he was inspired by the Modernist movement, and claimed that “any work of architecture which does not express serenity is a mistake.” He strove to use raw materials only, and built with clean lines and dramatic use of light, two characteristics heavily associated with Modernism.

Galvez House, built by Barragán during his time in Mexico City

In 1945, Barragán began his largest project, a housing development in southern Mexico City. The area was named El Pedegral (the Lava) for its volcanic eruptions thousands of years prior, which Barragán aimed to incorporate into the architecture. The main entrance, Plaza de las Fuentes, was completed in 1949. Model gardens and homes were designed by Barragán in collaboration with fellow architects, built to sell property in the area. In the 1950s, Barragan drew attention to the development by hosting performances of classic plays. Many of the original homes in the neighborhood have been replaced by larger, newer ones.

The interior and exterior of a model home in El Pedegral
An animal sculpture greets visitors at the Plaza de las Fuentes

His house and studio in Tacubaya, Mexico is perhaps his most famous project. From the exterior, the home resembles the others on the street, with a modest concrete facade. But the interior is fit-out with bright pink and orange walls surrounded by lush gardens. The home became a museum in 1988, and a UNESCO World Heritage site in the early 2000s.

The interior of Casa Barragán
The roof of Casa Barragán features colorful walls separated by concrete columns

For seven years, the deeply religious Barragán financed, renovated, and expanded the Capuchin Convent Chapel, completed in 1963. The chapel’s concrete and gold leaf altar  stands in front of a wooden triptych, and yellow stained glass illuminates the room in orange. The majority of the chapel is humble and reminiscent of Franciscan austerity with courtyards filled with greenery and fountains.

The chapel at the Capuchin Convent
A patio at the Capuchin Convent Chapel

Throughout the 50s, Barragán continued to build and renovate new residences. In 1957, with sculptor Mathias Goeritz, he planned Torres de Satélite, one of Mexico’s first large scale urban sculptures, and in the same year, designed an exclusive residential development, Las Arboledas. 

Three towers of the Torres de Satélite are painted in the primary colors, red, blue, and yellow, and two are painted in white

Barragán was an equestrian, and happened to meet a Swedish family one day while riding his horse. From 1966-1968, he designed and built their home, known as the San Cristóbal Estates, which featured barns, stables, and grounds for the breeding and training of the family’s horses.

The exterior of Cuadra San Cristóbal
The stables and courtyard at the San Cristóbal Estates

In 1980, nine years before his death,  Barragán became the second recipient of the Pritzker Prize. His archives are now owned by The Barragan Foundation, based in Switzerland. During and after his career, Barragán was lauded by fellow modernists including Alvaro Siza and Louis Kahn, and continues to serve as an inspiration for the use of color, emotion, and landscapes in global design.

Barragán giving his Pritzker Prize acceptance speech

SOURCES

“Jardines del Pedregal,” Wikipedia; “Spotlight Luis Barragan,” Archdaily; “Luis Barragan,” Wikipedia; “Luis Barragan Life,” Barragan Foundation