Monday, October 31, 2011



Luis Barragán's house and studio in Mexico, is a masterpiece of modern architecture in Latin America and the world. Despite being solidly built in the principles of the early Modernist Movement, Barragán's vocabulary is clearly Mexican, away from the industrial image of glass and steel that the European International Style seek to impose. Conversely, his works transmit, through the reliability and simplicity of his language, feelings of warmth and beauty, serenity and forcefulness. That is why this house and studio, built in 1947 and several times remodeled, is the only individual residence in Latin America that has been World Heritage Site by UNESCO.


After moving from Guadalajara to Mexico, Barragán began to venture in real estate activities, creating such important developments such as El Pedregal de San Angel, completed in 1945. Interestingly, despite the commercial success of this suburb, in 1943 Barragan chose the neighborhood of Tacubaya for locating his first house, at # 20 General Ramirez Street, a place that served as a laboratory to develop his architectural ideas.

Ortega House, at number 20, Barragan's first experimental house .

Subsequently, he sold this house (which would be known as the Ortega house) and in the same street, he built his home at # 14 and his studio at # 12.


Like in many of Barragan's works, the modest facade does reveal the architectural richness that is contained behind it. As an example of its simplicity, the composition and finish of the façade -whose only decoration consists of a bay window- are very austere, and integrate itself with the neighboring houses.

Details of the facade and bay window.

Two aspects characterize the intense experience of touring the house: the conception of light and color arrangement. Both stimulate the pupil from the serenity of the placid rooms to the vivid contrast of pinks and yellows with white tones and warm wood.

The design is a dramatic sequence of spaces that are concatenated to generate visual and spatial effects but at the same time are arranged and balanced in an integral composition. It is both a monastic and sensual space, part and whole, spacious and intimate. As Alfonso Alfaro wrote:
"Luis Barragán is a creator of serene spaces but in whose library disturbing ghosts are wandering: He is both an ascetic and a dandy, a businessman and an artist, a friend of the Reverend Capuchin Nuns and a reader of Baudelaire, a devotee of San Francisco and close to the muralists, a man, in short, whose baroque heritage is expressed in a nearly Zen Buddhism " .

Facades and sections. Images courtesy of Luis Barragán House


First floor. Image courtesy of Luis Barragán House

The austere facade deceives about the number of visual impacts that develop within it. Just upon entering we are welcomed by a small amber room, an elongated space of volcanic-stone floor and recessed walls. In one of the walls of this hall, covered with wood, is attached a wooden platform as a bank, a gesture that reminds me of the reception of the Chapel of the Capuchinas in Tlalpan.

Reception. Photo courtesy of Luis Barragán House

By transferring this small space we find a striking pink wall, belonging to the lobby.

Lobby. Photo courtesy of Luis Barragán House

This colorful background contrasts with the white color in the rest of the room, around which the circulations are organized in both the first level (to the services area as well as to the ​​social area) and the second level, a massive volume without railings reminiscent of mestizo colonial architecture (it was inevitable my association of this space with some spots of the Monastery of Santa Catalina in Arequipa ). Precisely the stairs are decorated with a golden painting of Matthias Goeritz, Polish painter who was a friend of Barragán for many years.

Lobby. Photo courtesy of Paula Moya

From the intimate scale of the lobby, we passed to the double height library room where space is expanded with a dose of monumentality. However, is not a direct entrance as we face a screen, but after turning around, the garden can be seen, which frankly is integrated into the space by a square window framing a cross.

At this time I experienced a deja vu ... I've seen this somewhere before ... Sure! It is the Church on Water by Tadao Ando ! When I mentioned this to the guide, he actually told us that during his visit to the museum, Ando admitted that this space was the inspiration for his famous church, without hiding his admiration for the Mexican architect.
This window also gives the impression of being deeply embedded in a wall, in the style of colonial houses. Barragan used this element often, because although the walls are thin, he uses a deposit to give depth to the window.

Estancia. Photo courtesy of Luis Barragán House

A similar gesture can be seen in the adjoining library, where a square window is the same bay window on the facade. This projection adds depth to the wall of the library, while the opaque glass separates it visually from the mundane exterior.

This window becomes a prominent buried in the library window

In this library is a very light and impressive staircase, which folds to climb up to the music room, separated from the library by a half height partition.

Library, with the stairs leading to the music room. Photo courtesy of Luis Barragán House

The library is organized through several screens which, although separate its functions, they allow the room to be perceived as a unique space.

Library. Photo courtesy of Luis Barragán House

The library room is communicated to the workshop, a double height space with high windows, detached from the world, whose yellow painted wooden ceiling gives a special character to this working area where ​​maximum concentration was needed. As we said, the workshop has its own entrance from the street, although this does not lead the work room itself, but to a secretary office and reception. But the workshop, this sanctuary of creation, is isolated form external visual contact precisely to afford privacy to the master. Only the volume of the ladder is imposed in this minimal space of hardwood floor and white walls illuminated from above.

Taller. Photo courtesy of Luis Barragán House

At the other end of the house, around the garden, the services are located: kitchen, breakfast room and dining room. These rooms are designed to enjoy views of the garden, and the breakfast room takes the morning sun, receiving light through a narrow high window.

Breakfast room. Photo courtesy of Luis Barragán House

Meanwhile, the dining room, simply furnished, has a splendid view through a generous window. A picture of an Archangel by the famed Mexican artist Jesus Chucho Reyes decorates the room.

Dining Room. Note that the table is attached to the wall, because Barragan liked to be the only one who presided over dinners. Photo courtesy of Luis Barragán House


Second floor. Image courtesy of Luis Barragán House

The lobby we commented about at the first level leads to the second floor, to the dressing room or "room of the Christ", a space filled in yellow light that distributes traffic to the master bedroom and the terrace. As Barragan would say, "reduces the tensions brought from outside" before entering his room.

Room of the Christ. Photo courtesy of Luis Barragán House

Here especially the visitor can appreciate two features of the architect's personality: his respect for solitude and his religious fervor. Barragán never married or had children (which did not stop him to being very popular with women); therefore his bedroom was just for himself. Hence, the furniture reflected his austerity, as well as the plain and long bed (note that Barragan measured 1.90 m), the simple furniture and some religious objects.

Master bedroom. Photo courtesy of Luis Barragán House

Next to his bedroom the afternoon room or white room was located, a space that also shares the monastic and circumspect atmosphere.

White room. Photos courtesy of Casa Luis Barragan

On the other side of the house facing the street sits the guest room (it used to be a terrace) and next to it is the music room, which as we said, is linked to the library by a slight stairway. From here you can distinguish the continuity of space through the rafters.

The guide displays a window that when opened forms a cross of light. "I do not know if the spirit of Tadao Ando after me" I said, "but this idea reminds me powerfully to his Church of the Light in Osaka. "
"Yes," replied the guide. "Ando said that the idea of this window was an inspiration for designing the theme of that church."

Guest Bedroom. Note the cruciform shape of the window. Photo courtesy of Luis Barragán House


From the workshop, an indirect exit leads to the "patio of the pots", an exquisite space whose scale allows perfect intimacy and serenity, and in which the architect included a serene pool, a gesture that he repeated in many of his works.

Patio of the pots. Photo courtesy of Luis Barragán House

The pots of different sizes, symbol of Mexican crafts, contrast with the pink wall where a vine creeps.

From this sublime intimacy we proceed into the garden, which the architect left to grow freely to achieve a semi-natural appearance. You may also see here the scars of many interventions and renovations to the house, which the architect made no effort to conceal.

Garden. Photo courtesy of Luis Barragán House


Terrace. Image courtesy of Luis Barragán House

On the terrace, which is accessed from the Room of the Christ on the second floor, the architect deploys his expertise to embellish some functional facilities such as water tanks, laundry and utility rooms, wrapping them with poetry through a series of planes and volumes that form an abstract composition and a color experiment.

Terrace. Photos courtesy of Sachiya


I think this is one of the visits that has impressed me most during my long voyage. Upon leaving, it is difficult to summarize the myriad of sensations experienced in the tour, it is difficult to reproduce in words the beauty that these spaces transmit. It was a lesson of forcefulness and clarity in the architectural principles and tenets of modern architecture. But it is fundamentally a lesson of humility, how he can do so much with so few resources, how a place can become eternal without making a fuss, how through silence it is possible to say so much. These are characteristic features in the architecture of the great master Luis Barragan.



Next to my kind host and friend, architect Paco Perez V, at the entrance of the Barragan House.


Photo courtesy of David Panevino .


A few meters away from the Mikimoto Ginza 2 , designed by Toyo Ito , lies an unusual building: De Beers (2005-2008), a project by Jun Mitsui for the prestigious company De Beers, specialized in diamonds. The building has an undulating facade, in which its winding curves contrast with the regular horizontal pattern that generates it.


De Beers stands in the shopping district of Ginza, one of the most important commercial areas in the Japanese capital. The building is located on the corner of Maronie St and a perpendicular minor street. In a plot of ​​approximately 340 m2, the building occupies a projected area of ​​4022 m2.


Due to its location on a corner, the building highlights its evocative and sensual profile, although given the narrowness of the road and the presence of other neighboring tall buildings, we must stand back to appreciate it in its entirety.

"Bizarre architecture". Photo courtesy of Ballet Lausanne .

The architect said to have been inspired by "the twisting form of light in motion" and the sensual curves of "the female outline". Whatever his inspiration, the truth is that the facade facing the Maronie street is a regular pattern that has been undulated (without being deformed, as Frank Gehry's Dancing House building in Prague) and thus presents a dynamic and agile composition, without losing the character of the grid that generates it.

This curtain wall is composed of stainless steel bars that descend vertically as ribbons, crossed by horizontal tabs. This arrangement allows the reflection of light in a peculiar way, which changes as the hours pass.

To locate the entrance in a subtle but hierarchical way, the steel frame was interrupted to accommodate a white cube.

Towards the minor street the facade is orthogonal. The architect separated the area closer the curved facade from another composition based in elongated ceramic tiles -that somehow reminded me of the Suntory Art Museum's lateral facade- but whose arrangement also suggests a curve.

This façade culminaties on a "V", which houses a two-story mezzanine, a stunning glass roof that faces the street, while water tanks and machinery are located in the rear. This solarium on the top enhances the dramatic form of the building.

Photo courtesy of Manuel a.69

Foundation, two basements and Level 1.
Level 2-5
Level 6-9
Levels 10 and 11 and two levels of the roof.


Photos courtesy of tanakawho
Photo courtesy of tanakawho
Photo courtesy of Justin James

An avant-garde idea or superficial formalism? Or the combination of both? The truth is that recently in the Japanese capital several architects have been experimenting with "skins" or "screens" glass, providing dynamism to otherwise static buildings, from the sober Renzo Piano's proposal in the Maison Hermes to the voluptuous curtain designed by Kisho Kurokawa in the National Arts Centre . What is undeniable is that the De Beers by Jun Mitsui is an ornamental , photogenic, superficial, glitzy and shiny building... the same qualities of the diamonds that are displayed inside.