Mexico has seen the rise of several architects and artists, and Luis Barragan cannot be left out when it comes to the mention of Mexico’s most successful and prominent architects. Luis Barragan though a trained engineer, learned the architectural profession by mere experience and apprenticeship. He took a better part of his life and experience working with and observing the works of his friends who were artists as well as writers who were architects (Arenal et al 2). One of Barragan’s major influences was Jesus “Chucho” Reyes. The latter was a primitive painter, and their relationship is evident as they shared the same philosophy towards life and art. One the other hand, Reyes and Barragan’s relationship was strengthened and enhanced by the fact that they were bound by the same loyalties to their native pueblo of Guadalajara. Another key individual who significantly influenced Barragan’s embrace of architecture and art was Mathias Goeritz. He was a sculptor of German origin and had been doing most of his teaching and artistic and architectural work in Mexico since his late 40s. The influence of a photographer known as Rosa on Barragan’s life cannot be shrugged off. Rosa played an integral role in upholding the Mexican culture, and together with Miguel Covarrubias who was a Mexican scholar; he managed to attract Barragan to architecture and art. However, the most significant influence in Barragan’s artistic and architectural life remains the villages, convents, and ranches of Mexico that exhibited popular architectural designs (Arenal et al 3).
Barragan’s rise to prominence is owed to the fact that he always endeavored to create an architectural language that focused on the natural and cultural conditions of Mexico. He also had passion and love for Mexico’s convents, villages, as well as ranches that later on had a significant influence on his artistic and architectural life (Arenal et al 3). Although neglected by the modern movement, stage architecture is one of the most outstanding ideas initiated by Luis Barragan. It should be noted that there are myriads of themes exhibited by Barragan’s artistic and architectural works. One of the themes that he focuses on through his works is solitude. Also known as loneliness, it is expressed in several works created by Barragan. He uses his works to show the solitude that man experienced in the gardens after being created by God. Barragan goes ahead to use his works to illustrate how a man can make peace with himself without interference from any other person. Another theme shown or expressed through Luis Barragan’s architectural and artistic works is nostalgia. This refers to the affection or the sentimental longing that an individual has for the past for a certain period and a specific place. In this case, Barragan through his works expresses affection for Mexico’s historic or past events. In Mexico, there is an argument that the past is always present, and that its architecture is charged with ancestral presence. This underscores the fact that most artists and architectures have valued the past and history of Mexico and have even gone ahead to express this through their works. In essence, this is the focus of the paper as it looks at how nostalgia and longing are shown in the works of Luis Barragan.
How nostalgia is shown in the works of Barragan
Nostalgia is expressed when Barragan shows his affection for El Pedregal (The Rocky Place) which was and still is part and parcel of Mexico’s past. The birth and rebirth of the story of El Pedregal in Mexico is attributed to the legends that were present during the creation of Mexico. It is argued that El Pedregal (The Rocky Place) came into existence around 2500 years ago and that its formation resulted from the eruptions that took place in the Xitle volcano. The lava thrown out of the volcano is believed to have solidified into a large area of crevices and caves. The area formed after the solidification of the lava is believed to have acted as a home to various reptiles, scorpions as well as wild plants. Arguably, the solidified lava is also believed to have provided the lava rock that is purplish gray that is currently used in Aztec and Toltec constructions in Mexico. Barragan is seen to show his affection for El Pedregal when he purchased a piece of land facing the site. The fact that the region was dominated by evergreen oaks seemed to amuse him. For the decoration of his architectural works and designs, Barragan capitalized on or used fantastic fragments of lava that he obtained from El Pedregal. For instance, to facilitate the creation of Tacubaya section of Mexico City that later became part of his Mexico City house, Barragan is seen to have used fantastic lava fragments obtained from El Pedregal. He liked and appreciated the beauty and ominous shapes of the lava formations, and he is seen to evolve the idea of utilizing lava fragments to facilitate the creation of architectural works and designs later on (De Obaldia 24). Barragan set out on a mission to transform the El Pedregal, which was considered inhabitable and inhospitable into a perfect garden that would support man’s daily life and existence. Through this work, Barragan expresses or exhibits the theme of nostalgia.
While appreciating and expressing his affection for Mexico’s past, Barragan came up with plans for creating a residential area that would show respect to both the lava formations and the exemplary natural vegetation of the El Pedregal region (De Obaldia 25). Barragan aimed at capitalizing in the region to come up with living quarters. He had the perception that the area dominated by lava formations would act as a platform that would facilitate the reception of guests. He also perceived that while capitalizing on the El Pedregal, he would come up with retreats that would be important for purposes such as sleeping, storage of facilities, as well as providing shelter from hostile environmental conditions. Irrefutably, these works and perceptions of Barragan express nostalgia. That is to say, Barragan is seen as an individual with affection for Mexico’s past and who capitalizes on the past to make Mexico’s present pleasant and attractive.
Apart from El Pedregal, Barragan is seen to enhance his architectural works and designs while capitalizing on the nature and landscape. This later became known as the idea of Arcadia. It should be remembered that in the early years, very few architects and artists showed interest in landscape and garden design (De Obaldia 24). In other words, they had no affection for Mexico’s landscape and nature. Later on, it was realized that nature and landscape were the pride of the country and was admired by all foreigners. Barragan then embraced nature and landscape to facilitate the creation of his architectural works. The affection for Mexico’s nature and landscape are highlighted in Barragan’s writings that include Vers Une Architecture of 1923, Urbanisme of 1925, Précision sur un état present de l’architecture et de l’urbanisme of 1930 and Quand les cathédrales étaient blanches of 1937.
How nostalgia relates to the Mexican culture shown in the works of other writers and artists from the state of Jalisco in Mexico
It is believed that the Mexican culture went through a serious evolution between the 19th and 20th centuries. The modern culture, in terms of art and architecture, is owed to the evolution. The Mexican culture boasts of numerous folk art traditions that are believed to have been derived from the indigenous and Spanish crafts (McManus 3). According to the culture, there is a preference for three-dimensional ceramics and angular, linear patterns. The culture also boasts notable handicrafts such as clay pottery, colorful embroidered cotton garments, colorful baskets, and cotton shawls and other garments. In terms of architecture, several buildings such as public, ceremonial, and urban monumental buildings are known to have embraced the pre-Columbian architecture. Just like Barragan, the works of several artists and architects from the state of Jalisco in Mexico illustrate the theme of nostalgia.
José Alberto Bustamante is one of the several artists to have campaigned for the embrace of the Mexican culture. Instead of copying architectural designs of other foreign countries such as America and European countries, Bustamante championed for the initiation of architectural and artistic designs that capitalized on the nature and landscape of Mexico, and through this, he illustrated nostalgia in that he expressed affection for Mexico’s culture, nature, and landscape (Guillen 5). While working together with Barragan, José Alberto Bustamante acquired several acres of El Pedregal where he went ahead with his works. He capitalized on the nature and landscape to come up with architectural designs that enhanced the Mexican culture. He curved steps and pathways into rocks, and disposed of stonewalls and water pools in an effortless manner that no individual could notice the initial condition and state of the region. In other words, Jose Alberto Bustamante used the locally available materials such as lava fragments to create his works that depicted the Mexican culture. Therefore, it would be agreeable that nostalgia, as illustrated by him, relates to the Mexican culture.
To promote the Mexican culture, there was a rule that all houses had to be of a contemporary design and that, foreign and colonial architectural designs and styles were forbidden. The Mexican culture articulates that residential houses should be surrounded by walls, and most of the artists and architects of the time embraced this by erecting high lava rock walls to surround houses (Guillen 4). One of the Mexican artists at the forefront of championing for the embrace of the Mexican culture in the creation of artistic and architectural designs was Antonio Castro Leal. Leal showed affection to the Mexican culture by pushing for the emphasizing on people respecting the traditional Mexican home, and this meant that people had to live in patios behind walls. The Mexican culture also dictates that plots were to become rooms that were open to the sky. In the creation of these houses, Leal championed for the use of locally available materials such as the lava fragments obtained from El Pedregal. This is an illustration of how nostalgia relates to the Mexican culture in accordance with the works and emphases of Antonio Castro Leal.
The promotion and embrace of the Mexican culture are also evident when rudimentary elements are used throughout the house with the aim of artists and architects achieving subdued visual drama (Guillen 7). According to the Mexican culture, houses should have walls that are roughly plastered and that are made up of volcanic rock tiles that show juxtaposition with wooden floors that are polished and that are covered with velvety carpets. The houses were later to be designed and furnished extraordinarily with Mexican ceramics, textiles, as well as wood carvings of great quality. One of the sculptors who created such houses and designs was Mathias Goeritz. He was also one of the great minds behind the creation and design of the Chapel for the Capuchinas Sacramentarias del Purisimo Corazon de Maria. The construction of the chapel is an indication of the Mexican culture as it has walls that are roughly textured and a floor made of the large wooden plank. By capitalizing on the nature and landscape, and by refusing to embrace foreign architectural designs, Mathias Goeritz expresses nostalgia because he expresses his affection for the Mexican nature, landscape as well as the culture. There is a clear indication of the relationship between nostalgia and the Mexican culture as seen in the works of Mathias Goeritz, an artist from the state of Jalisco in Mexico. By working together with Barragan, José Clemente Orozco, a Mexican painter who played an integral role in the creation of the early Mexican Guadalajara houses, shows a relationship between the Mexican culture and nostalgia. This means that the creation of the Guadalajara houses promoted the Mexican culture as they capitalized on the locally available materials such as lava rocks and did not embrace any foreign architectural designs. Thus, Orozco and others expressed their affection for the Mexican culture, and this is where the relationship between nostalgia and the Mexican culture comes in.
Juan O’Gorman is the other artist who expresses his affection for the Mexican culture when creating houses and related designs (Guillen 8). Juan was a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright’s and championed the use of the lava rocks obtained from the Pedregal to facilitate his works. Juan came up with his mosaic-covered house that was a perfect illustration of the Mexican culture. This is owed to the fact that he did not use foreign ideas or materials to facilitate it creation. Instead, he created the house with ideas from local architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s. Juan O’Gorman created the house in a naturally occurring grotto in the Pedregal. The creation of the mosaic-covered house capitalized on Wright’s local principles of organic architecture, and this shows that apart from having affection for Mexico’s landscape, he was at the forefront of championing for the embrace and promotion of the Mexican culture.
The Cristera revolution of Mexico and other historical events that influenced the works of Luis Barragan
The Cristera revolution is regarded as one of the major historic events in Mexico that influenced the works of Luis Barragan significantly. During the revolution, there was rebellion in the entire northern part of Jalisco where most of Barragan’s works had been created (Meyer 52). Of course, the invasion of Jalisco during the war resulted in the destruction of most of his works. The involvement of foreign countries in the revolution such as the United States resulted in the penetration of foreign architects and artists especially from the US. Thus, after the revolution, Luis Barragan embraced or rather integrated foreign architectural and artistic designs in his works. It should also be noted that during the Cristera Revolution, rebels seized villages and houses in Guadalajara despite their weak ammunitions. However, most of the works created by Barragan were destroyed, and this derailed the progress of his works. The aftermath of the war saw myriads of restrictions in terms of infrastructural development that influenced his works. The Revolution also saw the emigration of Barragan’s close partners to countries such as the United States and this influenced Barragan’s work negatively.
Apart from the Cristera Revolution, there are several historical events that might have influenced Luis Barragan’s work in one way or another. First, an ugly and tragic incident that took place in Mexico in 1968 was the Tlatelolco Massacre (Stack 79). The key factor that led to the revolution was that the government police and the army had gunned down several Mexicans, and among them were several students. The massacre saw the destruction of most facilities in Mexico, and these included buildings in Jalisco that were works of Luis Barragan. After the massacre, people did not concentrate on upholding the Mexican culture like before and thus, the embrace of foreign architectural designs took center-stage. Without a doubt, the works of Luis Barragan since then were influenced significantly.
Immediately after the Cristera Revolution, the 1968 Olympic Games were scheduled to take place in Mexico (Stack 83). This meant that more infrastructures had to be established, and the involvement of foreign countries in the infrastructural development in preparation for the Olympics cannot be ignored. Most of the house created used foreign architectural designs. Hence, the fact that Barragan’s works were influenced cannot be refuted. He was forced to embrace foreign designs in his works, and this is owed to the fact that the Mexican culture was gradually being abandoned.
Further influence of Barragan’s works was evident in 1985 during the Mexico City earthquake (Stack 87). It resulted in the deaths of several people and a massive destruction of property such as buildings that were estimated at $ 4 billion in Mexico City. Notably, Luis Barragan had created most of his works in the city, and the occurrence of the earthquake played a role in influencing his works. The aftermath of the earthquake saw the reestablishment of infrastructure in the city, and most of the new houses were inclined to foreign architectural designs.
Briefly, it is arguable that the development of infrastructure in Mexico especially before the occurrence of the aforementioned historical events is owed to the early Mexican artists and architects such as Luis Barragan. Although he was a trained engineer, he learned the architectural profession by mere experience and apprenticeship. He took a better part of his life and experience working with and observing the works of his friends who were artists as well as writers who were architects. His rise to prominence is owed to the fact that he always endeavored to create an architectural language that focused on the natural and cultural conditions of Mexico. He also had a passion and love for Mexico’s convents, villages, as well as ranches that later on had a significant influence on his artistic and architectural life.
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De Obaldia, Marcela. Towards establishing a process for preserving historic landscapes in Mexico: the casa Cristo gardens in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. Diss. Faculty of the Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master in Landscape Architecture in The Department of Landscape Architecture by Marcela De Obaldia B. Arch., Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara, 2002.
Guillen, Mauro F. “Modernism without modernity: The rise of modernist architecture in Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina, 1890-1940.” Latin American Research Review 39.2 (2004): 6-34.
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Meyer, Jean A. La Cristiada: The Mexican People’s War for Religious Liberty. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers, 2013. Print.
Stack, Trevor. Knowing History in Mexico: An Ethnography of Citizenship. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2012. Print.