Luis Barragan : architect biography

famous architect : Luis Barragan

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Luis Barragan architect
Luis Barragan architect
Luis Barragan architect
Luis Barragan architect
Luis Barragan architect
Luis Barragan architect
Luis Barragan architect
Luis Barragan architect

Luis Barragan

Luis Barragan architect Luis Barragan, prominent twentieth - century Mexican architect and landscape architect, was born in 1902 in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. Luis Barragan grew up near the willage of Mazamitla in the northwestern section of Mexico near Guadalajara on a ranch that his family owned. This landscape with its heavy red clay earth, rolling hills, intense sunsets, and frequent heavy rainfall was to have a lasting impression upon his later work. The courtyard houses, each with a fountain and large overhanging eaves, and the churches and marketplaces of Mazamitla left an indelible mark on his memory. The ranches, horses, and haciendas (Luis Barragan was an accomplished horseman) became part of his creative genius in expressing architectural form in the landscape. An understanding of cultural traditions, of the positive-negative relationship between the public street and private introverted house, and of the use of a simple and very limited palette of materials are always recognizable in his work.

Although Luis Barragan is a self-taught architect and landscape architect, Luis Barragan was educated initially as an engineer. During his school days in Guadalajara, a friend introduced him to French (the only foreign language Luis Barragan speaks) literature (Proust, Verlaine, etc). Thus he had his first contact, which highly impressed him, with the writings of the French landscape architect Ferdinand Bac, who wrote: "The soul of gardens contains the greatest amount of serenity in all of man's work." During his first trip to Europe in his early twenties, Luis Barragan met Bac; their mutual interests led to a friendship and together they visited Bac's gardens. This was a revelation to Luis Barragan and aroused in him the desire to develop landscape architecture.

In 1924, another momentous event occurred when Luis Barragan visited the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. This Islamic palace, built in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, is perceived from the exterior as a fortress with earth-colored stuccoed, burnt brick walls. Yet inside, it is a well-designed, organized, and complex program of rooms, intimate courtyards, and lush vegetation in informal, compartmentalized gardens, laid out asymmetrically with a free unrestrained composition. The effect of the use of water in tinkling, sparkling fountains, and tranquil reflection pools coupled with the heavy stuccoed walls caused a profound influence on both Luis Barragan's architecture and landscape architecture. This Moorish architecture was earned over to Latin America during the Spanish Conquest, and Guadalajara has multiple examples of this architecture in houses and public, religious, and military buildings that Luis Barragan knew very well, the roots of which Luis Barragan discovered in Spain. In several early Luis Barragan houses, the Moorish influence is clear. Luis Barragan has said:

I believe in an emotional architecture. It is very important for humankind that architecture should move by its beauty; if there are many equally valid technical solutions to a problem the one which offers the user a message of beauty and emotion, that one is architecture... The construction and enjoyment of a garden accustoms people to beauty, to its instictive use, even to its pursuit... I believe that architects should design gardens to be used, as much as the houses they build, to develop a sense of beauty and the taste and inclination towards the fine arts and other spiritual values.

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Luis Barragan's best known works include the garden at El Pedregal (1945-1950), his own home in Mexico City (1947), the Chapel for the Capuchinas Sacramentarias del Purisimo Corazon de Maria (1952-1955), the Towers of Satellite City (1957), Las Arboledas (1958-1961) and Los Clubes (1963-1964) residential subdivisions, the stable pools, and house for the Egerstrom family of San Cristobal (1967-1968), and Casa Valdes (1985), a project for which Luis Luis Barragan and Raul Ferrera did both the exterior and interior designs, the construction, and the landscape design. Perhaps the most important of Luis Barragan's architectural projects was the Lomas Verdes development; even though it was never built, Lomas Verdes is a completely new city concept, with very important urban development contributions and the plastic image of a contemporary city. It takes into consideration modern technology without the buildings resembling a cluster.

Another important project was the development of 13 million m2 (865 acres) of land near Mexico City formed some 6000 years ago by volcanic action. Ruins of several early towns were buried under layers of lava rock. The project is El Pedregal (stony place) de San Angel. During his first visits to the Pedregal, Luis Barragan began to envision the potential for integrating the massive lava forms—some rising precipitously behind the tree-covered foreground into gardens and habitable environments. Luis Barragan started by buying a small piece of property on the edge of the Pedregal. El Cabno (the goat's pen), where he built an intimate garden that would increase the property's value. Luis Barragan was first and foremost a real estate broker, and at that tune, the area had very little commercial value in spite of its wild beauty. Thus El Cabrio was a trial lot before buying, in association with another developer, the 4.5 million m2 of the Pedregal de San Angel. The very distinctive native flora was complemented by Luis Barragan with grass plateaus, fountains, and man-made walls and gates, turning it into gardens and a habitable environment. The winding streets were designed according to the urban concepts of the times, the English winding street concept that was used by architects such as Richard Neutra. Steps, garden paths, and water pools were carved into rock outcroppings and crevices. Here native flora grew easily on a layer of topsoil and created sharp, sensual contrast that heightened the beauty of the many-hued rock; transitions through areas of exotic contrast introduced an air of magic and mysteryto the gardens.

In 1980, Luis Barragan received the International Pritzker Prize. This prestigious award, established only one year earlier, is awarded to the living architect or architectural group whose work demonstrates those qualities of talent, vision, and commitment that have produced significant contributions to humanity and the environment through architecture. In presenting the award to Luis Barragan, Emilio Ambasz wrote:

We are honoring Luis Barragan for his commitment to architecture as a sublime act of poetic imagination. Luis Barragan has created gardens, plazas, and fountains of haunting beauty—metaphysical landscapes. A stoical acceptance of solitude as man's fate permeates his work.

A few of Luis Barragan's important words from his acceptance speech follow:

It is alarming that publications devoted to architecture have banished from their pages the words Beauty, Inspiration, Magic, Spellbound, Enchantment as well as the concepts of Serenity, Silence, Intimacy and Amazement. All of these have nestled in my soul, and though I am fully aware that I have not done them complete justice in my work, they have never ceased to be my guiding light.

Beauty. The invincible difficulty that the philosophers have in defining the meaning of this word is unequivocal proof of its ineffable mystery. Beauty speaks like an oracle, and ever since man has heeded its message in an infinite number of ways. . . . Human life deprived of beauty is not worthy of being called so.

Silence. In the gardens and homes designed by me I have always endeavored to allow for the interior placid murmur of silence, and in my fountains, silence sings.

Solitude. Only in intimate communication with solitude can man find himself.

Serenity. Serenity is the great and true antidote against anguish and fear, and today, more than ever, it is the architect's duty to make of it a permanent guest in the home, no matter how sumptuous or how humble. Throughout my work. I have always strived to achieve serenity, but one must be on guard not to destroy it by the use of an indiscriminate palette.

... a garden must combine the poetic and the mysterious with a feeling of serenity and joy.

Luis Barragan designed and constructed his own home to satisfy personal needs. In the process, Luis Barragan set new standards for the relationship between traditional and contemporary materials. His home in Tacubaya. Mexico, D.F., exemplifies special form characteristics drawn from memories of the convents, haciendas, and popular architecture of his childhood. It consists of a reinforced concrete structure and pine beams. The outer walls have few openings and are plain and high. All important rooms face inward to a garden. Inner walls are also tall and thick and white. Some interior walls rise only 7 ft, acting as partial separators of the tall spaces, and creating a dynamic quality of space flowing from one area to another. Lighting is diffused and gentle; the ambience is mystical. The colors and forms of Luis Barragan's roof terrace have been changed many times since 1947 when the house was originally built. One of Luis Barragan's central principles is that as man grows and changes, his spaces may change as well. Originally, a view of the garden below could be seen from the roof terrace, and a large rustic, plaster-covered, brick cross was engaged in one wall. In later alterations, this cross was removed and the wall made flush. The final form of the roof terrace encloses the inhabitant from all but the ever-changing sky.

While Luis Barragan's terrace reflects a poetic and dreamlike atmosphere, his devout Catholic belief is reflected in the convent of Tlalpan, currently recognized as one of the few wortgwhile examples of contemporary religious architecture. The convent, located in a suburb outside Mexico City (Tlalpan, D.F.), belongs to one of the most cloistered orders of the Catholic Church where sisters rarely leave the convent (Capuchinas Sacramentarias del Purisimo Corazon de Maria). The convent was constructed over a period of two years. Luis Barragan. with his own funds, remodeled the cloister and gardens, designed the chapel, and supervised the construction to his complete satisfaction (1954). The walls become dynamic sculptures as light moves through the spaces The rough plaster walls contrast with a few finely detailed wood elements. The sense of layering and meaning in this extraordinarily simple and serene convent make it a place of incredibly austere beauty totally in harmony with the rules of this order.

Although Luis Barragan calls his life's work totally autobiographical, it must also be considered as an enormous contribution to the modernists' search. While Luis Barragan cannot be considered a modernist except in the broadest terms, Luis Barragan in fact has carried the cause of contemporary architecture to new heights. The quality of his architecture cannot be grasped by studying plans alone, but must be appreciated as three-dimensional, dynamic, surrealistic compositions ever-changing with the sun and moonlight. Luis Barragan has been a pioneer in the use of color in modem architecture.

Luis Barragan has been influenced by a number of artists through his life. Perhaps the most important ones have been the painters Jesus Reyes Ferreira and Gerardo Murillo ("Dr. Atl"); the poet, Carlos Pellicer; the historian, Edmundo O'Gorman; the art critic, Justino Fernandez; and Luis Barragan's only partner, Raul Ferrera (since 1975). Luis Barragan credits Reyes Ferreira with teaching him to see beyond the level of purely rational thinking. Dr. Atl, famed for his landscape paintings of mountains, volcanoes, and valleys, camped out at the Pedregal before it was developed, sketching tirelessly. Luis Barragan was inspired by these drawings which helped him to clarify his vision of man in the landscape. Luis Barragan was also influenced by Le Corbusier, whom he imitated in several of the rental apartments and houses carried out during the 1930s and early 1940s. However, although Luis Barragan greatly appreciates Le Corbusier's talent, concepts, and architectural theories, Luis Barragan abandoned his style because they differed in taste and composition.

Louis Kahn wrote of Luis Barragan:

I asked Luis Barragan to come to La Jolla and help me in the choice of the planting for the garden to the Studies of the Salk Laboratory. When Luis Barragan entered the space he went to the concrete walls and touched them and expressed his love for them, and then said as Luis Barragan looked across the space and towards the sea, 'I would not put a tree or blade of grass in this space. This should be a plaza of stone, not a garden.' I looked at Dr. Salk and he at me and we both felt this was deeply right. Feeling our approval, he added joyously, 'If you make this a plaza, you will gain a facade - a facade to the sky.'

When sculptor Mathias Goeritz came to Mexico as a Nazi refugee during World War II, he was probably influenced

by Barragnn's work, who in turn, appreciated his talent Luis Barragan asked Goeritz to collaborate with him in designing a sculpture for the Pedregal de San Angel, and in the design of two windows for the convent in Tlalpan. In collaboration, they followed Luis Barragan's ideas and concepts inspired by the 12th-century towers of San Gimignano and Bologna in Italy, and designed the Towers of Satellite City. Paraphrasing his friend O'Gorman, Luis Barragan has said:

Before the machine age, even in the middle of the cities, nature was everybody's trusted companion, partner of the baker, the butcher, the blacksmith, the carpenter. Nowadays the situation is reversed. Man does not meet with nature, even when Luis Barragan leaves the city to commune with her. Enclosed in his shiny automobile his spirit stamped with the mark of the world whence the automobile emerged, Luis Barragan is, within nature, a foreign body. A water tank is sufficient to stifle the voice of beauty. Nature becomes a scrap of nature, and man a scrap of man. The intended dialogue between man and nature becomes an hysterical, monotonous, human monologue.

Luis Barragan's challenge to succeeding generations of architects and landscape architects is to find the fit between the natural environment and the man-made one - to respond to the spiritual and aesthetic needs of humans by working in harmony with nature.


1. M. Schjetnan, LA. 72(1), 71 (Jan. 1982).
2. E. Ambasz, The Architecture of Luis Barragan, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1976, pp. 2 and 11.
3. D. Bayon, LA. 66(4), 533 (Nov. 1976).
4. Acceptance speech for the 1980 Pritzker Architecture Prize, sponsored by the Hyatt Foundation, Los Angeles, Calif.
5. C. B. Smith, Builders in the Sun, Architectural Book Publishing Co., Inc., Stamford, Conn., 1967, pp. 74 and 78.
6. Luis Barragan, 'The Construction and Enjoyment of a Garden Accustoms People to Beauty, to its Instinctive Use, even to its Accomplishment," Via 1, Ecol. Des., 73 (1968).

General References
1. Luis Barragan, "Gardens for Environment—Jardines del Pedregal," J Am. Inst. ofArchit. 57(4), 167-171 (Apr. 1952).
2. H. Fleisher, "The Gardens of the Pedregal-Contemporary Design in a Land Subdivision in Mexico," Landscape Archit. 68(2), 48 (Jan. 1953).
3. M. Goeritz, "Sobre Luis Barragan", Arquitectos de Mexico 21(1), 19 (1964)
4. E. McCoy, "Designing for a Dry Climate", Prog. Archit. 52(8), 50 (Aug.1971).
5. "Recent Work of a Mexican Architect - Louis Barragan", Archit. Rec. 77(1), 33 (Jan. 1935)
6. "Parque de La Revolucion, Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico", Archit. Rec. 78(3), 165 (Sept. 1935).
7. Luis Barragan, "Dos Jardines en Mexico, D.F.", Arquitectura 18. 148 (July 1945)
8. "Jardines del Pedregal, Mexico City", Arts Archit. 20 (Aug. 1951)
9. "House by Luis Barragan, Architect", Arts Archit., 24 (Aug. 1951)
10. Y. Futugawa, ed., "House & Atelier for Lous Barragan", G.A. 48., A.D.A. Edita, Tokyo Co., Ltd., 1979.

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