Works of Luis Barragan – Discussion 25

‘Architecture as a sublime act of poetic imagination’

 The works of Luis Barragan were the focus of our weekly meeting. A video documentary on the amazing works of Barragan was a huge inspiration and was watched with rapt attention by everyone. The amazing simplicity, the colours, the light, the volumes, the planes, the gardens were all so relevant even after all these decades. The timelessness of the works was stressed by Ar.Tony, how his ideas and concepts were equally applicable even today in this fast paced world.

Luis Barragan is one of the most underappreciated architects of the modern era. Born in Mexico, Barragan was educated as an engineer but taught himself architecture. He travelled extensively through Europe in the early part of his life and was deeply influenced by the beauty of the native vernacular architecture- the colour, the light…all guiding his designs later on.  During his travels, he came in touch with various artists, photographers, writers who formed close relationships with him and whose works had a profound influence on him.

A very enthusiastic discussion followed the presentation and you could gather the admiration in everyone’s voices as they discussed the works in detail. It was agreed that his masterful use of planes to enclose volume and define space was something that was finely thought out and represented a rare perfection.

Barragan is known for creating spaces that are unique, spaces that celebrate, are silent yet full of vibrancy. In his gardens, silence resonates. Barragan had a special love for landscaping which was expressed through the gardens in his designs.

‘In the gardens & homes designed by me, I have always endeavored to allow for the interior placid murmur of silence, and in my fountains, silence sings’.

His buildings often had a plane facade which often concealed a very vibrant interior. His work was often called ‘minimalistic’ due to his use of simple planes for enclosing spaces and his austere volumes. Yet, all his spaces are deep, full of meaning. Barragan controlled the movement lines in his designs to such perfection, revealing only what he wanted the person to see. The different spaces were revealed gradually when one moves through the design, creating changes in directions leading to different visual focuses. For Barragan, a meaningful design was one which stimulated all the senses. His spaces were stimulating visually, yet were often silent with just the sound of his fountain and the wind audible. He controlled the use of materials, from the smooth walls to the textured ones, to floor planes paved with stones, the smoothness of the water bodies to the walls covered with the climbers.

‘El Bebedero plaza & fountain’ – The horse trough that Barragan designed, set in the backdrop of a long tall white wall was simplicity personified and was a great example of how an architectural intervention was ideal when it completed the natural context it is part of without superimposing itself. We all were delighted with the beauty of a simple plane white wall, one at the end of a long avenue lined with drooping Eucalyptus trees, how the wall caught the shadows of the leaves like a screen, how it changed with the mood of the day. Yet, a seemingly simple thing like this was carefully designed – the proportions of the wall, the slightly offset location of the water trough, the functionality of the trough for the drinking horses…all carefully thought through.

One common element throughout Barragan’s work and life was his affinity for art and beauty. Ar.Tony stressed on its importance, observing how Barragan constantly surrounded himself with artworks and how his circle of friends included a lot of artists, whose ideas and works Barragan often included in his own designs. This co-existence with allied arts was necessary for the development of an architect, to broaden his outlook and perspective and was something that Ar.Tony advised all of us budding architects to follow.

Barragan was deeply influenced by the use of bold colours in the vernacular architecture of Mexico, which appealed to the artist in him. All his walls feature bold colours – from the vibrant pinks to the deep ultramarines to the rich yellows, all contrasted with the brilliant plain white walls. These walls often acted as screens on which were highlighted shadows of trees and often acting as a backdrop for highlighting beautiful trees themselves.

The ‘Gilardi House’ designed by Barragan on a tight urban plot really epitomized all of Barragan’s principles. This genius of a design was something that really struck all of us for it sheer simplicity and clarity. The entire design essentially revolves around a magnificent tree that Barragan retained and made the principal element of the design, creating enclosed courtyards and sunken courts, masterfully juxtaposing volumes and planes to create a unified whole. The space was so inspiring that even Ar.Tony added that the gauntlet thrown down by the Master was something that should be a challenge to all of us and should be in our minds while we were designing.

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