Mexican genius creates a refuge in architecture

MEXICO’S legendary architect Luis Barragan revolutionized modern architecture in Mexico with his impressive use of colors, light, shadow, form and texture.
Yang Di / SHINE

The old Jacaranda tree was kept so Barragan could design the house around it.

MEXICO’S legendary architect Luis Barragan revolutionized modern architecture in Mexico with his impressive use of colors, light, shadow, form and texture. When he was presented the Pritzker Prize in 1980, his work was referred to as “a sublime act of the poetic imagination.”

Among the 110 houses designed by the genius in Mexico City, Casa Gilardi was the last project entirely done by him — a bachelor pad turned family home in Tacubaya district of Mexico City.

When the owners of the house — Pancho Gilardi and Martin Baltazar Luque Valle, who owned an advertising agency in Mexico City — approached Barragan, they wanted a bachelor’s house, for entertaining, partying, socializing, and most importantly as a refuge from the world, a place where they can rest their mind and soul.

The building was designed for two men in their early 20s. After Gilardi’s death, the house took his name and eventually became a family home for Luque Valle’s family.

Martin Luque Perez, the son of Luque Valle, who is now in charge of the maintenance of the house, told Shanghai Daily: “The original conditions of the house weren’t good. There were a lot of problems with the installations so they took them down, leaving only the Jacaranda tree and the hole of an existing swimming pool.

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Mexican folk art is shown in the living space. 

“My father and Gilardi wanted a house designed by Barragan because they loved vernacular knowledge, craft art and his idea of life.”

The first thing Barragan focused on was the Jacaranda tree. He asked the owners to keep the tree so he could build the house around it.

Although he had already retired at the time, the tree was a good excuse for him to accept the project because he absolutely loved it from the very beginning.

The property was created around the old tree in the middle of the site, where a courtyard separates the main private living spaces at the front from the section for entertaining at the back.

The only thing the homeowners requested was the main body of the house was painted in pink, inspired by the Mexican artist Churcho Reyes Ferreira, that required to be refreshed every few years to keep them the right shade.

The architect was not so certain the proprietors could handle the pink walls but the owners insisted on it but gave Barragan total freedom for the rest of the project. They were satisfied he knew how to create a magnificent home.

Casa Gilardi was the only house that was completely built and designed by Barragan because he didn’t have an office anymore. He had been retired for ten years but he did have a big synthesis of his ideas in the house.

Barragan once said: “It seems important to me that spaces are not aggressive. I always used low forms and permanently worked with right angles.

“At all times in my work, I had in my mind the horizontal and vertical planes and angles of intersection.

“This explains the frequent use of the cube in my architecture.”

Colors play the essential role in the house as in the architect’s other projects. The bold hues are based on the paintings of Reyes Ferreira. Barragan doesn’t paint green because he leaves those to mother nature.

The yellow colored corridor relates to Barragan’s spirituality. To the extent that the corridor is the “altar” of the house that leads to the pool. In Franciscan philosophy gold and yellow color are abstractions of divinity or God in space.

“It is a very strong, sensitive, transitional atmosphere between the social and private part of the house. The idea is to be seduced into the yellow corridor because of the light, the silence… it is a low, narrow and long transition for discovering the swimming pool that is painted with blue and red,” Luque Perez said.

In the private sector where one enters the house, the architect did integral design so all the furniture was also his design. It is a hypnotizing effect of light, texture, color, wind and silence.

“Barragan always cared about interior life instead of facades. Every element was designed in order to have the best relaxing, contemplative view of the exterior. This is something that was taken from the Franciscan monastery and cloister architecture,” Luque Perez said.

In every corner of the house, one can feel the architect’s devotion to the light, the reflections and the play of light.

He also brought tequila jars to the courtyard where the old tree stands as the central highlight.

Yang Di / SHINE
Yang Di / SHINE

Luque Perez considers the jars and the tree are the main highlights of the house.

“That is the last message of Barragan architecture: nature and tradition,” he said.

The house is currently undergoing a renovation. “We started almost three years ago because of an exhibition,” Luque Perez said. “We cleaned the limestone on the ground floor and realized that I had never seen the house in a perfect shape with my eyes.

“We haven’t stopped since then. However, we are never going to modify anything and everything will be 100 percent the same for letting it age again with dignity.”

The house is open to the public by appointment only. It receives around 40 persons per day and 200 on weekends.

“We have this win/win situation that people from the globe have the chance of looking at this amazing work from our country’s legendary architect,” Luque Perez added.

“With certain maintenance fee, they can learn from and also help us maintain the space as it should be.”

The family could have never imagined living in a place like this. They adapted their lifestyle to the architecture of the house.

The house will always transmit the same way just like the architect liked.

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 Blue color is used for one part of the exterior walls giving a peaceful effect.

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This bold painting by Mexican artist is on display at the second level of the house.

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The yellow colored corridor is the “altar” of the house that leads to the swimming pool.

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The pool area showcases Barragan’s frequent use of the cube in his space design.

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Tequila jars stand prominent in the courtyard.

Yang Di / SHINE
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