July 15, 2011

The Legendary Home of Luis Barragán

Luis Barragán was a legend amongst architects. Frequently referred to as Mexico's most influential designer of the 20th century, he received the Pritzker Prize for his work.

(For the uninitiated, that's the architect equivalent of being awarded a Nobel prize.)

His public buildings have inspired awe and wonder for decades; sometimes without people realising that they were looking at one of his creations.

The Torri Satélite is one of his. It is a group of towers designed to be seen from a moving car, in the middle of a Mexico City highway. It's a landmark viewed by thousands every day. The aim was to provide something interesting to survey from a traffic jam, which Mexico City unfortunately excels in providing. As the drivers sit there, awaiting their turn to move forward a few feet, their stress levels are reduced by this monumental art. It works.

Torri Satélite


However Barragán remained an intensely private man until his death in 1988. Then the world finally got the answer to the burning question, 'if his commissioned work is this good, then how amazing could his home, refined over the years, be?' The answer? It is stunning.

Luis Barragán's House and Studio was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006. This means that a United Nations panel, comprising of 21 countries, considered it important enough to be protected as a building of 'special cultural or physical significance'. This puts it on a par with places like the Pyramids of Giza, the Statue of Liberty, the Persepolis or Uluru (Ayer's Rock). This isn't just a pretty house.

Luis Barragán's House and Studio


From the outside, it's not even particularly that. Those strolling along Calle Ramírez, in Mexico City, would be forgiven for walking right on by, unknowing of the wonders behind the bland exterior wall. Barragán built his house to blend into the existing surroundings. His building appears like any other in the street. It's unprepossessing, grey concrete. Yet stand on tip-toe, from the front of the house, on the opposite side of the road, and colors start to emerge within.

Luis Barragán's House and Studio


It is only as you step through the front door that the artistry becomes apparent. Every corridor and room is individually designed, with vivid colors and masterful use of light. The whole house is his canvas, from the positioning of the walls, through to the shape of the rooms, and their aspects. The artist plays with perspective. It is difficult to judge exactly how large or small any area is, because his design seeks to play tricks with the eye.

The house is filled with secret places. Rooms within rooms; or staircases, which afford unlikely views into spots of intense beauty, art or the garden. It was built to be an emotional experience, which can only be tapped into by actually being there. As such, at one time photography was prohibited, on account of the camera never being able to capture the mood. It's not a building to see, but to feel.

"In alarming proportions the following words have disappeared from architectural publications: beauty, inspiration, magic, sorcery, enchantment, and also serenity, mystery, silence, privacy, astonishment. All of these have found a loving home in my soul."
Luis Barragán, accepting the Pritzker Prize for Architecture

Photography is allowed in the property now, though only on the roof terrace. Some observers maintain even that misses the point.

Luis Barragán's House and Studio


Luis Barragán's House and Studio


Luis Barragán's House and Studio


The architect's fascination with light and shade was built into his home's design. By closing a shutter or switching on a light, then a whole room can be transformed. As such, knowledge of its secrets means that it can be displayed in very different ways. A visitor might not see the same house twice.

Casa Luis Barragán, is on General Francisco Ramírez 12-14, Colonia Ampliación Daniel Garza, México city. Tours are by appointment only, but can be arranged by calling (52) 55 5515-4908 or e-mailing casaluisbarragan@gmail.com.

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