mexico city / casa luis barragan
the home/studio of pritzker prize winning architect luis barragan 1902-1998 shouldn’t be missed. unfortunately, visitors aren’t allowed to take photos inside. too bad — i could have taken much better ones that these — which i lifted from the website. built in 1948 and located in a working class neighborhood (14 general francisco ramirez, colonia ampliacion daniel garza), the facade is nondescript. you enter though a small, yellow entry hall tiled in volcanic stone. there is a single thick pine plank bench cantilevered from one wall. it’s monastic and claustrophobic. through a door you enter a beautiful vestibule with one wall painted signature pink and a rail-less stair flooded from above by the light of an over-sized window reflected in a gold-leafed panel.
you can access the entire house from the vestibule, but the tours take you first to the”estancia” with the famous wall-sized window (that’s really more like the absence of a wall). the floors are plank, the the room doesn’t feel modest because of the soaring ceiling with timber beams. the yellow “albers painting” is really a piece of textile he bought and had stretched and framed.
this view of the same room is shot from the corner, directly in front of the window. behind the pigskin screen is the door to the vestibule. behind the 1/2 height wall is the library. the low (8 ft) wall was added by barragan after he had lived in the house.
the library is dominated by a wall of probably 9 ft high bookcases of heavy planks – very beautiful – and on the other side, the famous cantilevered stair. i regret that i can’t show you an image of it from the side. it’s like a line drawing on the wall. austere. elegant. and more than a little scary. really fabulous. we were assured that it’s quite sturdy – the planks extend into the wall 30 cm – though you aren’t allowed to walk on it. the bottom of the stair is whitewashed. the shadow of the stair is violet.
the furniture is handmade and designed by barragan. it’s heavy and just this side of unbearably clunky. the furniture and woodwork are dovetailed and pegged. the pulls are small wooden cubes or square holes of same dimensions as the cubes.
this is the “white” or “afternoon” room. barragan entertained his numerous female guests here. it is the only room in the house without religious art in it.
notice the mercury glass ball in this room and the room below. there are reflective balls like these in many rooms. the story is that they were positioned so that barragan, when seated in his favorite place in the room, could see what was going on behind and all around him. in the dining room, two of the spheres provided him with views of the backs of his guests and allowed him to monitor them for amorous activities.
and this was his tv room. really. the door on the left is a stair that leads to the roof terrace. the back of the wall you are looking at is painted yellow.
barragan is sacrosanct here. and the house is pretty astonishing. i’m not sure if the vibe i was getting in it was due to being someplace so famous – like being at the taj mahal, or the austerity, or all of the religious paraphernalia piled around. or maybe barragan’s theories of architecture creating a spiritual environment were working on me.
i found that often the execution of his ideas was less elegant that the idea. that was bothersome. details lacked refinement. yellow, as helen will tell you, is not my favorite color — and man is there a lot of yellow. liliana and maria jose found the upstairs stuffy and not nice. i wanted to pull up the rugs, get rid of most of his objects (i might keep one or two of the mercury balls) and re-decorate a bit. the garden — intentionally overgrown with banksia and english ivy – needs a really good pruning. but i could live here.
we did all come away disliking barragan, the man, intensely. a control freak in the most unappealing ways. and probably a misogynist.
the roof terrace is surrounded by high walls to give you privacy. i found it poetic — a precursor to turrell. liliana and marie jose hated it… they felt manipulated and hemmed in. it might have been low blood sugar and tired feet.
the signature pink. i had dinner last night with an architect who knew barragan when she was a child. she says the walls have been many different shades of pink. that he frequently tried a new ones. perhaps the problem with casa barragan is that nothing changes any more…