No other country in the Americas has more Unesco Heritage Sites than Mexico, and one of its most intriguing contemporary architectural examples is the Casa Luis Barragán—or the Luis Barragán House and Studio.
The complex is the former residence of its esteemed architect Luis Barragán whose vision continues to inspire other designers globally. It is described by the Guardian as his “masterpiece” and “the ultimate synthesis of traditional and modern”— indeed, no other individual structure in Latin America is bestowed a Unesco title.
Barragán built the house in 1948 and lived and worked there until his death 40 years later. Since then, little has been moved or changed. It serves as a museum, a tribute to Barragán’s work and life. The site comprises two lots, the house and workshop — numbers 12 and 14 — positioned on General Francisco Street in the working class neighbourhood of Tacubaya in western Mexico City. The colourful concrete construction spans a ground floor and two upper levels — including a roof terrace — that overlook an intimate garden replete with a fountain. It merges modernism, notes Unesco, “with traditional Mexican vernacular elements”.
Immediately Barragán’s death, the Mexican government declared the property a national artistic monument affording it protection from unsolicited modification. Inside rest the original furniture and personal belongings of Barragán, including his library. An impressive art collection stretches all the way back to the 16th century and includes works by renowned Mexican painters such as Diego Rivera, alongside the occasional Picasso. The house also serves an exhibition space for visiting works.
Barragán was born in Guadalajara in 1902 to a prominent Mexican family. He grew up on a ranch and first studied engineering and later — after travelling through western Europe — architecture. Guadalajara still hosts numerous homes that he designed and they, with others around the country, attract architectural students from around the world.
The Bauhaus movement influenced Barragán greatly, as did iconic modernist Le Corbusier. His work is often referred to as ‘emotional architecture’. According to Unesco, Barragán is credited with creating “a regional adaptation of the International Modern Movement in architectural design”. “Luis Barragán’s work was about building a feeling,” writes Brooke Bobb for Vogue. “… He was able to evoke emotion through his sense of eye-popping colour and geometry.” Barragán was of the opinion that a house was never finished, once commenting “it is an organism in constant evolution”.
In contrast to his legacy, in life, Barragán was little recognised — certainly not until later in his career, anyway. In 1975, New York’s Museum of Modern Art honoured him with a retrospective and shortly before he died, Barragán was awarded the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s most prestigious gong. Sixteen years later, Unesco listed his house and studio as a World Heritage Site, fitting for a man who believed, “My house is my refuge, an emotional piece of architecture, not a cold piece of convenience.”