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Luis Barragans house
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Luis Barragans house
The last morning, en route to the airport, we visit Luis Barragan’s house, which is now a museum, viewable by appointment only. He is thought of as one of the greatest Mexican architects of the 20th century.
The exterior of the house, in a poor neighborhood, is unremarkable. It blends seamlessly with the anonymous semi-industrial buildings on either side. But as you step into the entrance hall, - described as a ‘sluice–gate’ – you know you are in the presence of something extraordinary. Light streams into the hall, filtered through a yellow glass panel above the door; the wall to the left is constructed of wide horizontal panels of pale wood, the floor made of dark volcanic stone. The gentle, knowledgeable guide, ….., an architecture student, opens the doors ahead and we are blasted by colour. A profoundly surprising wall is revealed, painted a glowing pink, with another doorway leading to a mysterious space beyond.
As we are guided through the house the experience of space deepens. Tears suddenly and unexpectedly spring to my eyes as we are ushered into the main living space, with its enormous windows, divided by a central frame of a cross looking out onto (or being looked into from?) an overgrown wild jungle of a garden. One room unfolds from another, each bathed in a ‘metaphysics of light’ as the guide describes it; spaces designed to contain the mutable moving sun; spaces that honour human proportions and yet also express a divine principle.
The building is a work of genius. Built in 1938, it could not be more relevant or contemporary as a house that is more than itself, every detail an act of devotion. (I had only seen such beauty of proportion in the ‘Butterfly House’, the priests’ sanctuary and the only building I loved at the pyramids at Tectuahatan, which we had visited one grey, smoggy morning. I experienced the pyramids as fascist architecture, designed to ensure that humans felt small in the face of authority, God, and the state – just like Mussolini’s palaces and railway stations in
The Barragan house seems to work with some ancient principles too; ‘framing’ the sky, in order to see it as if for the first time (a parallel with the function of cinematic framing, of course). And the whole house is an act of worship. Barragan was a Catholic; he saw God in every form and in every form a function.
The house was built in 1938, after a long ‘dress-rehearsal’ in the house next door. In
Luis Barragan’s house
The Barragan Foundation’s guide
The main living space
(photo © Barragan Foundation)
Text © Sally Potter. All pictures © Adventure Pictures unless otherwise indicated