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Why does this Mexican architect’s home attract tourists from all over the world?

Luis Barragan's was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site for its architectural significance integrating modern, traditional and vernacular elements.

art and culture Updated: Feb 21, 2018 15:56 IST
Associated Press, Mexico City
Mexico,Luis Barragan,Casa Luis Barragan
Visitors will find Luis Barragan's house and studio much the same as it was in 2004 when it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. (AP)

In a working-class neighbourhood of Mexico City, two concrete buildings hidden near the end of a cul de sac draw visitors from around the world. This is the home and studio of Luis Barragan, one of Mexico’s most influential architects, who lived and worked here for four decades. The complex, called Casa Luis Barragan, features a clean, minimalist style, accented by Mexican elements, with high walls, natural light and splashes of colour creating magical spaces.

Built in 1948, it became a museum after Barragan’s death in 1988 and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004. Tour reservations for the complex must be made several weeks in advance. Most tours are in Spanish but there are some in English. Those who arrive without reservations are sent away.

Tour reservations for the complex must be made several weeks in advance. (AP)

Barragan was a modernist who blended the functionalism of Le Corbusier with designs inspired by Mexican traditions and by his travels to places like Morocco. He used natural light to create “transition spaces” separating outside from inside, evoking the serenity of a Mexican courtyard. But he also used bright colours like sunny yellow and an electric pink called rosa Mexicana.

New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1976 honoured Barragan with an exhibit of his work, and in 1980 he became the first Latin American to receive the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize. The prize is seen on the tour in a small office next to his library. His disciple Ricardo Legoretta, whose best-known works include the Camino Real Hotel in Mexico City and the Catholic cathedral in Managua, Nicaragua, is also a highly regarded architect.

A figure of Christ dominates this room in architect Luis Barragan's home in Mexico City. (AP)

Barragan was a bachelor and died in the house at age 86. The home and studio are owned by the government of his native Jalisco state and a foundation called the Fundacion de Arquitectura Tapatia Luis Barragan. But his professional archive — plans, photos, models — was purchased by a Swiss furniture company and is housed in Europe by another foundation named for Barragan. Access to that archive has been severely restricted by its owners, which has limited what museums and scholars can do to promote Barragan’s legacy. In 2015, a conceptual artist had some of Barragan’s cremated remains dug up and made into a diamond ring. She offered the ring in exchange for access to the archives to make a point about corporate ownership of art.

Barragan’s deep Catholic spirituality is evident throughout the home, with several wooden crucifixes hanging on walls and a statue of St. Francis of Assisi on display. The casa is virtually hidden by the high walls that surround it. Its lush, green interior garden can be viewed through large windows, bringing a feeling of nature indoors.

Known in large part as a landscape architect, Barragan was especially influential in his own country, planning Mexico City’s Jardines de Pedregal project, which transformed an expanse of lava rock into a park and residential area. He also designed the five colorful towers of the Ciudad Satelite development on Mexico City’s outskirts and reconstructed the Chapel and Convent of the Capuchinas Sacramentarias in the capital’s southern zone of Tlapan.

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First Published: Feb 21, 2018 15:55 IST