From the Field: Luis Barragan

A guided tour of one of Mexico’s architectural treasures.

01.28.2022

Walking up to the Luis Barragán house and studio you might question if you’re in the right place. The stuccoed exterior is discrete and could pass for any non-remarkable modern building. Like most of the architecture in Mexico and Spain, and most dense cities, the compound flanks each adjacent structure. The one defining characteristic is the large gridded window that protrudes from the exterior signaling the modernist rationality that the entire complex is based on. The entrance, through a yellow metal door brings you immediately into a dark transition space. Once your eyes adjust in the vestibule, which separates the outside from the rest of the house, you’ve finally entered the beautiful world of Luis Barragán.

The first room that we enter is an entry space where we meet a staircase made of stone which acts like a stage or maybe even an altar where a square gold leaf painting is mounted flush with a wall and seems to be a permanent backdrop for anyone descending down the stairs to greet guests. The painting evokes the halos of divine figures that would be painted in a church. The staircase, made of Mexican lava rock, pays homage to the first monumental architecture in Mexico. In this still space, a very electric magenta wall casts a subtle pink reflection onto the opposite white wall.

Passing through the magenta wall we enter the colorful dining room with yellow carpet, another magenta wall and a view of the very green garden which seems as if it were a color that had been considered for the space.

And just beyond this room we enter the famous living room space where the height of the house’s two-and-a-half stories is activated. The view is guided through the whole space and beyond a glass wall. Were it not for the cross that supports and divides the panes it might feel like the room just opened into the garden. The quietness and stillness of the interior is punctuated by the very subtle movement of plants outside swaying in the wind while dappling the sunlight and casting shadows throughout the space (Further evidence of how dynamic the light is throughout the entire house). As we move through the living room space to the other side of the room there is a very energetic zig-zag staircase that almost seems like a drawing that you can walk on, and apparently sometimes functioned as a stage for Barragan to walk down when he was entertaining guests.

Upstairs we get a more personal look at the Barragán that maybe not every guest got to see. His room is adorned with religious relics like a giant crucifix as well as cultural souvenirs like a fanned photographic booklet of the model Iman. Adjacent to this room is a den-like space that houses other treasures like a ceramic piece from his good friend Chucho Reyes. Further references to his Catholic faith appear in the signature shutters that open to make a cross when the light passes through.

Another set of stairs moves you through the service area through a door that when opened creates light art on the opposing wall. The roof is not only another space for entertaining but another exercise in space and color. Here, various planes of color contrast with one another as well as the sky, which could be many different colors depending on the time of day.

Exiting past the bookshop, which used to be a secretary’s office, we’re then back on the street where we started, in awe from the most theatrical experience of color, space and light.

Photography and text by Dante Iniguez