Architects are often considered to have outrageous personalities because of the opinion they possess to design the world around them. One such name was on the list that eventually ended up turning Mexico City into the revolutionary place that it is. Juan O’Gorman was not only an architect but a painter and a great muralist too, whose name is signed under the world’s largest mural from Mexican History. He was a boundless artist who took a turn from functionalist architecture and worked on to create a fine blend of organic architecture and Mexican culture.
Even though O’Gorman was never considered a great architect by many, he still managed to turn around his reputation with the kind of work he did, let’s have a look at some of his works that speak all over Mexico.
1. Library of the National Autonomous University of Mexico
UNAM Library, the most elaborate works of his career, was planned in an organic approach having proper symmetry with cubical form and free facades. Due to the requirement of keeping the archives at the tower above, no windows were provided that stopped the light to enter inside that gave Juan O’Gorman four huge canvases to work his magic on. All the murals (measuring 43,000 square feet) were made out of no less than 3 million pieces of colored natural rocks. The walls depict the picture of the university and the Mexican identity combined.
2. House- Studio Museum of Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo
Residence-Studio designed for the renowned artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo is counted amongst the landmarks of Mexico and was an integration of two independent concrete blocks. Both individually designed on the 5-points principle of Le Corbusier, respecting both the personalities yet showing the love of the couple by linking the blocks by a narrow bridge. Additionally, the project is viewed as a machine and was one of the first examples of functionalist architecture back in 1931.
3. The Cave House
In 1953 O’Gorman designed his own house in an extraordinary way which acted as a stamp for his rejection towards functionalism. The residence was planned in a natural cave which kept the harmony with the gardens surrounding it. He decorated the place with mosaic, decorative motifs from Mexico, and pictures of Aztec mythology. Furthermore, he brought the origin of Architecture back with the cave’s archetype, which means to take refuge.
4. Red House/ Casa O’Gorman
Juan O’Gorman built his first residence in 1929 (aged 24) that has a pink exterior and a brick roof, exposed wiring, and huge windows. The house was for his father and ran on a principle of not compromising the functionalism over the aesthetics of the place. Open patio created by elevating one glazed volume of the building with pillars and a striking staircase made of concrete jutting out the other side combined the house to be called brutally minimalist. The house still exists and is available as Airbnb.
5. Anahuacalli Museum
Anahuacalli museum owned by artist Diego Rivera was designed for his pre-Columbian artworks. A brutal black volcanic stone pyramid majorly inclined towards the Teotihuacan culture was also the first stone mosaic O’Gorman made. The studio-house-museum witnessed varied pre-Columbian styles that are visible in the hexagonal arc and rectangular arc as Maya and Aztec influences respectively that act as the entrances to the various showrooms.
6. A Confluence of Civilizations
A 130 x 22 feet measuring mosaic mural proposed by Juan O’Gorman for the 1968 HemisFair, currently located on the exterior of Lila Cockrell Theatre, was made in 540 panels weighing 100 pounds each that took him 12 months to construct. Mural with the portrayal of European civilization on the right and indigenous Meso-American on the left was made out of ten varieties of stone of different shades that O’Gorman found traveling throughout Mexico in 1966 and was transported to San Antonio from Mexico which was a huge task in itself.
7. Gertrudis Bocanegra Library, Patzcuaro
An old church on Placa Chica turned into a beautiful public library houses a 14m high x 12.8m wide mural at the back wall on the northern side. The 1941 mural was named the History of Michoacán and was painted with watercolor paints on a flattened surface made of cement, popularly known as the fresco technique. Juan O’Gorman depicted Michoacán’s history starting from pre-Hispanic to the time in the 1910 revolution, in this pictorial work.
8. The Cry of Independence in the Museum of National History in Chapultepec Castle
The National History Museum at Chapultepec Castle in Mexico treats the visitor with a magnificent mural by Juan O’Gorman that he made in 1961. ‘The Cry of Independence’ portrays the war of independence of Mexico starting from left with the struggles of indigenous people and moving onto the right where New Mexico is documented.
9. Credit Transforms Mexico: Juan O’Gorman’s Mural in HSBC
Juan O’Gorman painted the mural for the headquarters of Banco Internacional in 1964. ‘Credit Transforms Mexico’ has been restored and placed in the new HSBC building. The mural shows a contradiction between two elements that benefit mankind, the process a natural land goes through to help humans and another is the manipulation of the same nature into factories and highways for a better future.
10. Porfirista feudalism
O’Gorman represented the Profirian era in this mural with so much detail that one can feel the actual emotions painted on it. The painting on the left side has politicians, and members of General Diaz’s cabinet, beneath them, are the peasants just like the hierarchy at that time. Additionally, the left part of the mural shows the signs relating to the revolution, whereas, the right side is demonstrating the torture and the silent attitude people followed due to the fear within them.
11. Altarpiece of the Revolution
Juan O’Gorman was known as an artist who always managed to sketch the harsh reality through intricate details. Once again such a reality was revealed in this mural, where the end of the Mexican Revolution’s first stage was painted along with the stated March of Loyalty.
12. The Sand Mines Of Tetelpa
The painting with lush details made of tempera paint, a popular medium in early Renaissance and medieval art, is one of the various paintings he made of the Mexican countryside. The affection for Mexico he carried in his heart is beautifully portrayed in this view of a landscape showing Mexican Arid topography.
Inspired by artist and friend Diego Rivera, Juan O’Gorman painted several paintings ranging from nature scenes to Mexican culture to portraits. Amongst all the other portraits, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and José Clemente Orozco stand out. However, the most offbeat of all is the Multiple Self-Portrait, a painting that consists of four portraits of him in a single frame. The picture has an artist painting himself who is painting himself painting. A little confusing, but the results are remarkable.
Juan O’Gorman was questioned many times for his ways of carrying out some works that were slightly different from others. Although he built 26 elementary schools in the neighborhood of Mexico along with parks, private residences, and museums, he was still considered as a weird architect. Some of his famous works, for instance, the mural at Mexico City International Airport, were destroyed and removed, but one can get the idea of how stunning they would have been too. Despite all this, as time flew by, his dedication towards his culture and the details he managed to put on various canvases of different sizes, certainly qualify to inspire many.