Mexico was a fertile ground for modernist architecture in the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s. While the United States was adhering to a Soviet-style official architecture, Mexico — looking to express a progressive new identity after its revolution — had gone entirely modern. Starting in the late 1940’s public building projects — government buildings, schools, hospitals and public housing — were designed according to the logical economy of a stripped-down functionalism. The desire for an expression of modernity extended beyond public architecture to the realm of the wealthy and the powerful. Modernism in Mexico’s elite private sector was often practiced as a style, symbolic of sophistication and novelty but divorced from the progressive social philosophy at the heart of the movement.
Mexican Mid Century Modernist design spans a period starting in the late 1940’s and goes on until 1968, timing with the Summer Olympics held in Mexico City. Examples from this period include the Ciudad Universitaria, El Eco (the first alternative art space designed by Mathias Goeritz), and the residential enclave of The Gardens of Pedregal de San Angel, conceived and planned by famous Mexican architect Luis Barragán.
Luis Barragán was initially trained as an engineer. Influenced by the traditional structures of Spain and North Africa, in addition to the avant-garde movements of the first half of the 20th century (in particular the German Bauhaus and the work and teachings of Le Corbusier), his most profound inspiration was the vernacular architecture and forms of his native Mexico. Cited as an inspiration by a number of his successors including Tadao Ando and Frank Gehry, he first ascended to international acclaim in 1976 when the MoMA in New York held a retrospective of his work. Soon after, in 1980, he would go on to receive architecture’s most prestigious award, the Pritzker Prize. After his death, Barragán’s home was restored and opened to the public as a museum, becoming a UNESCO world heritage site in 2004.
Of all his undertakings, the development of the Jardines Del Pedregal is widely considered to be Barragán’s most important. Seduced by the savagely beautiful, though seemingly inhospitable lava field of Los Jardines del Pedregal de San Angel at the south-eastern edge of Mexico City, in 1945 Barragán devoted himself to transforming the wilderness of purplish black lava beds, cacti and trees into a livable garden, where man and nature could be reconciled. The resulting exclusive residential area, a key post WWII example of regional and humane modern development, is considered a turning point in the history of modern Mexican architecture. From 1945 to 1953 Barragán oversaw every aspect, from the conception, design, construction and marketing, to the creation of a network of roads, plazas, ‘simple abstract’ houses and gardens. Throughout El Pedregal, Barragán collaborated with 2 good friends and local artists whose work and philosophies were, for him, of great import. For color and composition Barragán consulted Mexican painter Jesus “Chucho” Reyes to brilliant effect, and also incorporated into the plazas and entrance porticoes the sculpture of German-born artist Mathias Goeritz. Barragán’s furnishings, like the spaces they were designed to fill, succeed in being simultaneously aware of – and referential to – both modern and traditional styles, successfully integrating current artistic trends with the vernacular to create a style that is at once both traditional and contemporary.
Although the number of Luis Barragán’s works is not significant, they have allowed him to become an influential figure in the world of landscape and architectural design. Opposed to functionalism, Barragán advocated for an ‘emotional architecture’ claiming that, “Any work of architecture which does not express serenity is a mistake.” Today, the Barragán Foundation which is owned by the Vitra Design Museum in Switzerland is functioning as his official estate. Vitra owns the rights to the name and works of Luis Barragán as well as Armando Salas Portugal’s photographs involving Barragán and his work.
Francisco Artigas was a very prominent figure in Mexican architecture with a great number of outstanding designs. The majority of Artigas’ projects were houses built in the 1950’s and 1960’s for clients in Mexico City’s most exclusive suburb, Los Jardines del Pedregal de San Angel, laid out on the south edge of the city by real estate broker Luis Barragán. These masterpieces (for instance, Casa Gómez, 1953) made Artigas an icon of Mexican modernism. Artigas’ work was inspired by his profound admiration for Frank Lloyd Wright and Albert Frey as well as Brazilian Oscar Niemeyer. Francisco Artigas’ houses in El Pedregal and in San Angel expose the uncanny quality of abstract modernist boxes in strong site conditions whether a lava-covered foreign landscape or in a lush, almost tropical exuberant vegetation.
In the late 1960’s however, Artigas shifted his architectural style – in his new work there was no justification, no protocol, no larger plan based on a new concept of social engineering: he was simply bored with modernism.
Francisco Artigas interior designs from the 1950’s and early 1960’s keep a perfect balance and harmony with the surrounding landscape. Below I have put together some samples of his furniture designs from that period of time:
Pedro Ramírez Vázquez is responsible for a substantial portion of the most famous and visited contemporary buildings in Mexico City. The Nueva Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe is perhaps his most famous and celebrated contribution to Mexico City’s architectural heritage. Constructed between 1974 and 1976, the Basilica is widely considered the most important religious building in Mexico. Another of Vázquez’s notable projects was to create the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City (1964) and yet another of Vázquez’s well-known works is the Mexico City Museum of Modern Art, (the MAM) in collaboration with Rafael Mijares, also in 1964. He has been responsible for the construction of some of Mexico’s most emblematic buildings and he is known to be a modern architect with influences from the European modern movement, Latin American modern architects and pre-Columbian cultures. His contribution to industrial design is remarkable; in particular I have to mention his sculptures in glass made for Kristaluxus Monterrey and Daum France as well as several furniture pieces for offices and museums.
…to be continued in part # 2
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