Light, Beauty and Solitude: The House of Luis Barragan (1902 – 1988)

Soledad, solitude in Spanish, is both the origin and the end point of the architecture of Luis Barragán (1902— 1988). In his Pritzker Prize acceptance speech in 1980, the Mexican architect cited solitude as a defining principle of his practice, along with light, beauty, joy, and death (death, because in Mexico, it is intertwined with life).

Poetry is the essence of all of Barragan’s designs, including his own house in Mexico City’s Tacubaya section. Built in 1948, the house sits behind an assuming street façade, primarily a blank wall with a few square windows and three doors. A white tower and orange wall project above the roofline, hinting that something special is found through these doors.

Exterior of Casa Luis Barragan, Mexico City.

Those who make an appointment to visit the house, which is now run as a museum, enter a narrow corridor with steps ascending to an entry vestibule gaining light from above. From here, you can turn left and ascend to the bedroom upstairs, walk forward towards the kitchen and dining area, or veer right into the living space. There is perspective, but no sense of scale: no furniture, no signs of life but the vines which spill across a corner. Barely visible, a simple cross casts a shadow on the wall. On the roof terrace, the sun illuminates walls of white and red, and earthly brown. Cut off from the house and garden below, it is one with the sky, a place for contemplation quite different from the intimate spaces below. This is a house of constructed horizons and an ode to absolute solitude.

Barragan’s architecture drew inspiration from modern art and design movements in Europe with traditional local imagery and Mediterranean influences to forge a new synthesis in architecture. In 2004, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site, the only Latin American building to achieved this honor.

Leave a Reply