18 August 2014


The architecture, travels and life of Mexican architect Luis Barragán
by Guillermo Aranda-Mena

This month I am working on an exhibition in tribute to the Mexican architect Luis Barragán. Perhaps the first exhibition of Barragán in Australia. To be held at Melbourne Federation Square (The Atrium Building) during September in commemoration of the anniversary of Mexican independence which took place on the 16th of September, 1810.

I was introduced to the work of Luis Barragán while doing my architecture studies in Guadalajara, Mexico. It was then when things start falling into place, especially a world-view,  love for travel, appreciation for regional culture, buildings and overall,  atmospheres.

Before I knew who is "Luis Barragán", I certainly knew very well his birth town, "Mazamitla" which is a couple of hundred kilometers south of Guadalajara, Mexico. It was a usual destination for my parents to do day trips over weekends both, driving with both parents or riding with my Dad on his Harley-Davidson. Although a popular destination for weekenders, Mazamitla was then a quiet forestry town which I always loved, especially for its hilly cobble-stone streets, white houses with a lower ochre printed ribbon which carefully hides splashes of red soil while raining. Other buildings include timber residential and stone public buildings.

Mazamitla is a Mexican township enticing to the five senses,  a quiet corner at the fringe of Jalisco state with Michoacan state. It is hilly with pine forests surrounding it, the smell woods and smoke coming out of fireplaces is ubiquitous. Tasty dishes served in patios of old homes now converted into cafes and atmospheric restaurants with traditional furniture known as "equipales". The sound of horses gallivanting behind rolling-hills. The warm feel of irregular cobble streets. The views onto the streets through thick adobe wall-openings more commonly known as windows! Although  traditionally Mexican, Mazamitla is distinctly unique.

... and this is the birth place of Barragán, surely it had to have a strong impact on his early life and development. His early work shows the fine sensitivities that architects have nurture and to develop and also appreciation to nature, and clean and quiet built forms. Although remaining an obscure destination for a Mexican a national or international audience, Mazamitla attracts architects, artists and lovers of traditional crafts to pay the occasional visit. Although Barragán broke-through into modernist architecture, its no surprise that he continued applying traditional Mexican elements to his buildings, this certainly had resonance, especially in the busy metropolitan areas of Guadalajara, Mexico City and Monterrey throughout his life. Some of these spaces include: internal patios, water mirrors, external walls, pergolas, clay-pots, and drinking posts for horses, always full of atmospheres and playing with light and shades.

I have one month to prepare for an exhibition for the Mexican Independence celebrations on September 16th. The exhibition and celebrations will be held at Federation Square, Melbourne. The Barragán exhibition will be at the Atrium which is on the Flinders Street front of Federation Square (across from The Forum theatre). I will hold an stand amongst a handful of 5 other Mexican artists and my space will provide insights into the life and work of Luis Barragán. A tribute tribute to a man that I never met, thought a soul that introduced me into the magic world of Architecture. 
"Tracing Colour" refers to the idea of bringing some of Barragán's geometric language and pictorial patterns into an exhibition that talks not just about buildings, but about Mexican architecture in the mid-1900's including its art, culture and traditions. Barragán manages to break away into modernity. All with a twist, as the exhibition provides references to other artists and architects in-tune with a similar design language to Barragán. Such references is to engage with an audience across five continents. This also talks about the universality of Barragán and the Modern Movement. All paintings authentically Barraganesque!

People who collaborated with, or influence Barragán include, Luis Kahn, especially with Salk Institute project in which he designed the courtyard (La Jolla, California, 1965),

References such as  Tadao Ando, Alvaro Siza, Oscar Niemeyer,  Mario Botta and 'il capo',  Lecorbusier always bring fond memories of Barragán and the school of thought of his times. Visits to places such as The Heide Design Museum of Modern Art in Melbroune (1964, Melbourne) by David McGlashan of McGlashan and Everest also bring back fond memories of Barragán and his spaces. More over, the work of Barragán is deeply entrenched in Mexican forms, colours and traditions of a nation with a myriad of European, Mediterranean, Indigenous and American references. Other parts of the exhibition will refer less to culture but highlight his inspiration from nature and landscapes.

I will conclude with a couple of paintings of one of Barragan's earlier homes, Casa Cristo in Guadalajara, Mexico which currently hosts 'El Colegio de Arquitectos' (the Institute of Architects) and is the very first place in which I exhibited my tow earliest projects, "Hotel Lazaro Cardenas" y "Casitas de Tapalpa".... as an architecture student some 20 years ago.

The exhibit is a join effort and collaboration with my sister Paulina is (was) travelling from Sicily to London - she took the theme of Barragán as a traveller. Her component could easily be named "Tracing Barragan's Steps"!

The photos here below are just a start into Barragán's journey into canvas. My studio is far, far away though... is in a small Outback South Australian town known as Oodanatta!

Watch this space,

Acknowledgements: Thank you to my sister Paulina for her encouragement and support in getting this exhibit of the ground and to James Harley who took me far out into the Australian Outback to work on this projects with no distractions whatsoever! Gracias!

Guillermo Aranda-Mena © 2014