Art

The Mexican Architect Who Painted Modernism Pink

August 10, 2016

If you’ve come across any of Luis Barragán’s works, you might find yourself wondering if they actually exist. Is it merely a trick of the camera or paintbrush? Did Barbie’s Dreamhouse get a modernist makeover? The works of this Mexican architect—which are real buildings, all brought to life in his native country—seem other-worldly. This was intentional, of course; Mr. Barragán believed that “the ideal space must contain elements of magic, serenity, sorcery and mystery.”

It's impossible not to love an attitude like that. So in celebration of Barragán's inimitable style—a warmed up and emotional version of modern architecture—here's a little more about his work.

As you'll soon understand just by looking, few architects have such a recognizable and easily distinguished style as Barragán. His individualism stems perhaps from the fact that he was never formally trained as an architect, but as an engineer. (And he himself claimed that philosophers, painters, and poets were his primary influences.)

Shop the Story

When Barragán traveled to Europe as a young man, however, he encountered one architect who proved to have a lasting impact on his style: Le Corbusier, the Swiss-French designer who pioneered what we now call modern architecture. Barragán attended Le Corbusier’s lectures and learned of the new International Style taking hold across Europe at the time.

Though “Barragán Pink” was his signature color, it wasn’t always his hue of choice in a given project.

Upon returning to Mexico, Barragán started implementing this style—but not as a carbon copy of what he had seen. Instead, he adapted the rectilinear, minimal look of the International Style to a distinctly Mexican vernacular, designing large volumes comprised of ninety-degree angles and then “softening” these hard lines with an injection of vibrant colors associated with Mexican heritage and textured adobe walls more akin to traditional haciendas.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I had the privilige in my youth to meet Luis Barragán in person for the first time during his late night visit to supervise the full size mock-up rooms of the Camino Real Hotel in Mexico City in 1967 ... alongh with the project's architect Ricardo Legorreta, Mathias Goëritz and other people involved with the project ... I was collaborating in my young years with the team of Knoll International in the interior design for the hotel ... The architecture in those days was white with just a few color accents ... Barraganś' house and studio was white ... with few color accents ... it was only years later that Barragan started to use colors ... with his friend and mentor Chucho Reyes Reyes Ferreira ... Luis Barragan ... attended the Pritzker ceremony in person ... and his acceptance speech was delivered by his long time friend Doctor Edmundo O'gorman ... It's worth mentioning that Barragan's acceptance speech to receive the Prtzker Prize ... Barragan's manuscript was translated from Spanish into English by my late wife Lily Rivera ... I had the privilige to meet Luis Barragan several times afterwards from the first enconter at the job site of the Hotel Camino Real de Mexico ... and had the privilege as well to collaborate in Barragan's studio at the end of his life ... This article about Luis Barragan revived great times of yesterday ... ”
— hugo R.
Comment

In all his works, Barragán focused on experience. He manipulated environments with a dramatic use of light and shadow, and was able to blend interior and exterior spaces so seamlessly as to be disorienting. The results are living works of art, often likened to master Cubist and Surrealist paintings.

The property that perhaps best represents Barragán’s ideals and aesthetic is his 1967 San Cristóbal Estates (a property which also happens to currently be on the market for $13 million).

Barragán’s background as an accomplished horseman influenced his design decisions in the four-bedroom home, guest house, and stables—a 7.5-acre equestrian oasis. Along with a signature use of color and large volumes, Barragán's San Cristóbal Estates also exhibits his influence on the field of landscape design. (In that realm, interesting, he was influenced by Islamic tradition, where the garden and courtyard are so central and primary that they can take precedence over the house itself).

At San Cristóbal Estates there are two large pools, one for humans and one for horses. Horses enter their designated pool through large-scale gates cut out of a large horizontal pink wall.

Barragán designed the property so that the horses could roam freely about the property, as they would in nature. (Wandering horses combined with pink walls makes San Cristóbal Estates my 8-year old dream house, as well as my 28-year-old dream house.) Even though it's a private property, the implication is that people are invited to roam freely, as well.


Though he was undeniably influenced by Le Corbusier, Barragán came to reject the modernist dogma that form must always follow function, that homes are "machines for living," saying that “any work of architecture which does not express serenity is a mistake.” The use of water, both flowing and still, was used in virtually all his projects as a way to convey tranquility and refuge from the outside world.

Though Barragán once stated that the only group of people he felt uncomfortable around were architects, the architecture world did embrace his work—though not until late in his life and career. In 1975, he was awarded a retrospective solo show at MoMA in New York City and in 1980, while suffering from late-stage Parkinsons, he was awarded architecture’s finest honor, the Pritzker Prize. Unable to attend due to poor health, Barragán wrote a letter of acceptance that rejected the arrogance that had become so pervasive in his field: “I am only a symbol for all those who have been touched by beauty.”

Pink walls: Would you or wouldn't you? Tell us in the comments.

6 Comments

amysarah August 11, 2016
If you haven't already seen it - really interesting article in New Yorker a couple of weeks ago, about the controversy surrounding the archive of Barragan's work. Also about how he's now a diamond engagement ring: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/08/01/how-luis-barragan-became-a-diamond
 
hugo R. August 11, 2016
... yes ... thanks ... I have red about Barragan's ashes converted into a diamond ... but not as a diamond engagement ring ... just as a diamond ... if it's true ... I think Barragan would be very surprise ... and perhaps laughing about it ... his work and the archive ... I believe ... are the best "diamond" of Luis Barragan ...
 
amysarah August 11, 2016
It's true. But it's not an engagement ring in the usual sense - it's more of an artistic gesture, to make a plea about allowing public access to his work. <br /><br />I promise this will all make sense if you read the article! Very thought provoking.
 
hugo R. August 10, 2016
I had the privilige in my youth to meet Luis Barragán in person for the first time during his late night visit to supervise the full size mock-up rooms of the Camino Real Hotel in Mexico City in 1967 ... alongh with the project's architect Ricardo Legorreta, Mathias Goëritz and other people involved with the project ... I was collaborating in my young years with the team of Knoll International in the interior design for the hotel ... The architecture in those days was white with just a few color accents ... Barraganś' house and studio was white ... with few color accents ... it was only years later that Barragan started to use colors ... with his friend and mentor Chucho Reyes Reyes Ferreira ... Luis Barragan ... attended the Pritzker ceremony in person ... and his acceptance speech was delivered by his long time friend Doctor Edmundo O'gorman ... It's worth mentioning that Barragan's acceptance speech to receive the Prtzker Prize ... Barragan's manuscript was translated from Spanish into English by my late wife Lily Rivera ... I had the privilige to meet Luis Barragan several times afterwards from the first enconter at the job site of the Hotel Camino Real de Mexico ... and had the privilege as well to collaborate in Barragan's studio at the end of his life ... This article about Luis Barragan revived great times of yesterday ...
 
Amanda S. August 10, 2016
Hugo, thank you for sharing this—it's wonderful! We're so glad you enjoyed the piece.
 
Author Comment
Janice B. August 12, 2016
Yes! Hugo - if we ever do another piece on Barragan, I would love to speak with you about your experiences. I'm sure you're a treasure trove of information!