A stark white compound wall with a wooden door at the end, with a perpendicular wall bearing metal letters holding proudly, the name of the estate. You meander inside to find yourself in a painting where the built and the landscape merges. The wall surfaces splashed with lovely colours of pink stands tall as a prominent brush stroke. The landscape makes its way through the vertical surfaces and forms an entity itself. The colours used to form this scenic view compliments each other, the blue, the pink, the white, the maroon and the violet. The painting is an equestrian estate in Mexico City, designed by Pritzker Laureate Luis Barragan.
A white façade which merges with the neighbouring houses. Inside is poetry between the flat planes and light. The skylights and windows allow one to watch the stars on a starry night and view the beautiful nature during the brightly lit day. The opening’s size varies from one space to another based on the nature of light required and the view it caters to. The dining room is flooded with light from a high window which accentuates the roof slope. The windows in the front are tall to ensure privacy, whereas the windows are big, which opens to the backyard greenery. This house built for himself is evolving over the years based on his architectural practice and changing perceptions. The Barragan style is expressed in the house with the use of bold pink, violet and red colours. The white of the facade is contrasted with the pink halls of the access hall, a room whose only function is to house the telephone.
Peace and serenity are the two words that best describe the works of Luis Barragan. Using the vocabulary of Mexican architecture – bold textured planes, the delicate play of light and majestic treatment of spaces to create magic or a sense of charm within his buildings. The Capilla de las Capuchinas is a 7-year long project of chapel expansion and convent constructed in 1960. The details, colours, light and shadows leave one mesmerised. The highlight is a sunken court that connects the chapel to the convent. The court consists of a black stone pool that floats white flowers, which helps bring the human scale to the white-walled court. Adjacent to the pool is a yellow metal latticework covering a leisure staircase leading to the second chapel. The reflection of the yellow lattice can be seen on the black pool. The court also consists of the monumental embedded cross. The various spaces of the chapel are lit using different coloured light – the pink glass in the access space to the main chapel reflects the colour to fill the space with the special shade, the yellow glass of the choir drowns the space with ochre-caramel colour and the main chapel’s triple-height space is generously lit by an indirect superior slit in the triangular wedge.
In the era of Modernism, minimalism, white walls, and the absence of ornamentation were the highlights. Barragan treated his planes with bright and bold colours. The bright colours, textures and composition of planes are part of the Mexican culture. His ornamentation idea was through expressive tectonic materials and simple details, which left the spectators in awe like the bench in the Capilla de las Capuchinas seems floating in space, wherein it is connected to the perpendicular through invisible brackets.
Barragan was inspired by many artists and painters of the time. The dining room with a pool of the Casa Gilardi was taken from a famous painting by Chucho Reyes. The pool ends in a scarlet red column which cuts off the water and reaches the ceiling, where the slit washes the wall with an abundance of light. The lightness of the space is brought in by the heaviness of the grounded walls coloured pink and blue. The reflection of the light on the water fills the space with a hazy glow, wherein the movement of the reflection again brings in the idea of lightness against the stationary walls. Colours are very important in the projects of Barragan. The patio of Casa Gilardi is royal Purple, the access an optimistic Yellow, and the walls adjacent to the court complimented with white and bubblegum pink.
Barragan believed in creating magic and mystical spaces which amazes the user regardless of the number of visits they’ve made. He does it through the play of light created through the various textures and reflections cast. The level of detailing he has looked at is beyond wonder. Space is orchestrated, including the number and type of furniture used within. He considers landscape as equally important to the built space. And through all his designs, we can see the landscape flow through the built space. The projects by Barragan lack a sense of presentation and monumentality yet forms a whole beautifully. In plan the spaces flow into each other instead without any formality, e.g. the removal of a partition floods the room with light, transforming it. More than an architect, he can be called a poet of spaces.
“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 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 lights” – Luis Barragan, Acceptance speech, Pritzker Laureate 1980