“Any work of architecture which does not express serenity is a mistake.” So said architect and colour pioneer Luis Barragán, whose buildings in Mexico have been hugely influential not just on other Modernist architects but also in the way colour is used within buildings. Originally trained as an engineer, the influence of the work of Le Corbusier, who he met on a trip to Europe, is obvious in the houses he created on his return home. However his style evolved to suit his surroundings, characterised by playful, bold use of colour, drawn from the exterior spaces to the interior spaces of his buildings, as well as soft, concealed lighting which creates a calm, spiritual feel too.
A number of his iconic buildings are open to the public, but our interest was picquet by this short film, taking a tour around the last commission he accepted before he died. Situated in Mexico City, Casa Gilardi was built for owner Martin Luque, who was asked by Luis Barragán himself if he was sure that he could handle living with its pink walls.
The tour reveals a remarkable space, with vivid blues and pinks outside framing the jacaranda tree at the centre of the build (the reason, Barragán said, that he was interested in the commission in the first place) and yellow corridors within lending a warm stillness to the space. At the centre of the house is the extraordinary swimming pool, a signature of Barragán’s and an excuse to play with colours intersecting on differing planes, reflected in the water below.
Many of the trademark details of Barragán’s other schemes are in evidence, with details like doors and staircases picked out in vivid hues – these ideas are shown most clearly in Barragán’s own house, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in a working class suburb of Mexico City, it was finished in 1948 and he lived there until his death in 1988. Photographs of the house at different times testify to the truth of his idea that a house is a living organism, never quite finished.