After Barragán

After Barragán

“Without the desire for God, our planet would be a sorry wasteland of ugliness.”

Architect of Light and Silence

Luís Barragán, 20th century Mexican architect, landscape architect, and urban designer was unknown internationally until featured in a 1976 exhibition at MOMA in New York. He remained unheralded in his own country for much of his life, even after winning the Pritzker Prize in 1980. His body of work culminated in a repudiation of the International Style, the predominant design school of his time. Instead of a generically universal urban architecture, Barragán embraced the autobiographical, vernacular, and idiosyncratic in culture and nature. His genius lay in synthesizing disparate elements into an artistic expression that reconciled man and nature and anticipated an ecological philosophy commonplace today. Barragán’s works are testaments to the natural world, man’s place in it, and so to the divine. He created spaces that allow for contemplation of sun and sky, plant and earth – places of solitude, quiet, and wonder.

Barragán’s work owes to many influences: the geography, architecture, and culture of the Mediterranean, north and south: the writings and drawings of Ferdinand Bac: time spent in Mexican pueblos and on hacienda; his Catholicism; the Minimalist, Rationalist and De Stijl movements in art; and the artists Chucho Reyes, Mathias Goeritz, Miguel Corravubias, Rosa Corravubias, and Goya. Imagery that he specifically acknowledged includes waterworks (fountains, dam drains, ponds in orchards, well curbstones in convents), architectural features (whitewashed walls, patios), and cultural expressions (colorful Mexican streetscapes, the casbahs, the Spanish Moors).

Barragán distilled these references into signature elements. Inward facing residences, non-descript street facades, blank walls, vibrant color (white, orange, yellow, gold, blue, pink, purple), an intimate scale, water – moving and still, roof gardens, terraces, filtered light, primary volumes, horizontal planes, and straight lines all serve to highlight man’s relationship to nature.

Barragán’s designs fall into three periods: his residential work in Guadalajera (1927-1934), his rationalist stage (1934-1940), and his late stage work for which he is most well known. Seven designs of this period most powerfully illustrate his antecedents, philosophy and themes. They are the urban designs of El Pedregal, Las Arboledas, and Los Clubes; the residences San Cristobal House and Stables, Barragán House and Studio, and the Convent for Las Capuchinas; and the public art installation Satellite City Plaza.

Luís Barragán’s art reflects his desire for a world where man acknowledges and accommodates the natural in humble recognition of the divine order. It is a harmonic relationship that he posits, of counterpoint, intellect, and abstraction, where man frames nature and nature frames man, in exaltation of God. In his Pritzker address he said, “It is alarming that publications devoted to architecture have banned from their pages the words beauty, inspiration, magic, spellbound, enchantment, as well as the conepts 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.”

Luís Barragán died in 1988.

Recommended reading;
For beautiful evocations of the Mexican landscape:
All the Pretty Horses (The Border Trilogy), Cormac McCarthy 1992

For the best photographs of Barragán’s work:
Barragán, Amando Salas Portugal 1992

For lucid analysis and synthesis:
The Architecture of Luís Barragán, Emilio Ambasz 1976

For early work, analysis, historic and artistic contexts:
Barragán The Complete Works, Raul Rispa 1966

For the modern landscape context:
Modern Gardens and the Landscape, Elizabeth Kassler 1964

After Barragán1 was first exhibited at The Coffee Table, New Haven CT
LANDSCAPES: Before and After Barragán
April 2002

Artist Statement


  1. Monotype/Collage: Ink and art papers on paper. 12″ x 17″
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