It is now almost three quarters of a century since the advent of the emotional architecture movement. However, its leading exponents continue to inspire new generations of creators, architects, engineers, interior designers and artists. The style of Mexican architect Luis Barragán is marked by emotion. His modern, ancestral and profound work is part of the life, learning and cultural background of today’s architects, interior designers and artists.
Looking to the future from the past: the emotion of memory in the space created in Casa Barragán
Over the years, in various interviews and statements Luis Barragán emphasised how emotions had driven the decisions behind his various projects.
Barragán often spoke of the importance of combining aesthetics and spirituality. Creating spaces that evoke emotions in places that had affected their designer. Many of his projects began with barren land. Located in wastelands and deserts, in neighbourhoods that had yet to exist, they seemed surrounded by nothingness. It was this apparent nothingness that moved him, inspired by minor details that no one else would have noticed. Such details were incorporated into his works: a breath of air, the movement of small wild animals, the type of light.
His own emotions and experiences
His own emotions and what he wanted others to feel when they lived in, visited or contemplated his works were rooted in the past. Consequently, he would allude to his childhood and early adolescence as having motivated the feelings he sought to convey. Memories of his father’s ranch underlie his works as he mentioned in interviews. This was the place where he spent his childhood and youth.
Subsequently, his experiences and impressions abroad were brought to life through his mind and his pencils. Thus, he captured them in his drawings, and then in space.
Many such experiences, memories, dreams and moments were instrumental in every detail and element of La Casa Estudio Luis Barragán. It was built in 1948. The result is one of the most important international contemporary works of architecture, and was listed as a UNESCO, World Heritage Site in 2004.
His preference for natural materials was clear in the materials used in his own house. Accordingly, the mythical, iconic and attractive Casa Barragán, represented an intimate refuge. It was the guardian of memories, able to stir emotions. This is the reason that so many creators, architects and artists still visit and are inspired by it.
Light and colour in Casa Barragán
Light and colour were key elements of his work. The simplicity of the spaces is enriched by careful splashes of colour and the use of light incorporated in the design and construction. He was clearly affected by his trips to Morocco and his visit to the Alhambra in Granada. There, he noted the distinctive light and shadow in the patterns of Arab latticework and the bright midday light. Similarly, the sun’s warm caress competing with cool shadiness for people’s favour were engraved in his DNA and his memory.
For Barragán, it was essential to differentiate quality of light from quantity. As a result, he played with modulating and graduating his spaces. He achieved this purpose by using shutters, lattice and curtains to let in the right amount of light. Thus he managed to elicit the desired emotions.
With the appropriate use of both, Luis Barragán transmitted his emotions to interior and exterior spaces. Moreover, he managed to ensure that decades later, visitors to Casa Barragán continue to feel at peace. Thus they are enveloped in calm and serene beauty. They are wrapped in the stillness and embrace the freedom he sought to convey.
Light and colour transmit emotions
The importance of light and colour in conveying and eliciting emotion is not only evident in his architectural legacy. It is also clear how he has inspired projects in other artistic disciplines, where his style has left its mark.
He was daring in his use of pink and red. He also found a place for yellow and orange. Not only that, but he managed to express their liveliness and joy without being strident. As such, he employed colour by perfectly adapting it to the location, the building and the atmosphere. For this reason black and white images of his designs are not perceived in the same way. These simple colours are an earthy and tangible expression of the dreamlike images that assailed him. And therefore they reflect memories of the happy sunrises and sunsets of his childhood and his travels in North Africa. In this way they balance the sobriety of his designs.
The chromatic interplay of Casa Estudio Luis Barragán has inspired interior designers, architects and artists alike. At times, this colour play is used for dramatic intention creating the effect of half-light. Whereas at others, it was used as an aid to focus or to organise the space.
Geometric volumes, dreams and emotions
Geometry and volume are other elements common to many projects, present throughout Barragán’s life and work. The Pritzker Prize winner uses clean volumes to generate feelings of peace, calm and well-being.
As a result, even spaces with right angles and intersections lack any notion of aggressiveness. Instead they always evoke emotions that appease anger and calm the soul. In this way they induce relief for the senses, clarifying ideas and providing the relaxation of freedom.
Similarly, the combination of straight lines and curves and the geometric lines of stairs and buildings speak of subtlety, harmonious contrast and balance.
Matter, representative of experience and guardian of memory
He has always opted for ancestral, earthy building materials with their own memory. With their organic, varied textures and a personality carved over time, they are the guardians of their own and other people’s memories. Thus volcanic stone is a reminder of his childhood home. In this way the rocky terrain witnessed his childhood and youthful dreams. His use of solid wood and the architectural and decorative use of leathers, furs and fabrics are reminiscent of his time in North Africa. All this is reflected to perfection in the Casa Barragán.
An inspiring legacy with a contemporary twist: architecture and art
His imprint continues to endure. He has left his mark on many important architects who have kept his legacy present in their own works. This can be seen in functional spaces such as Alberto Karach’s Vasconcelos Library or in Javier Senosiain‘s enigmatic Nido de Quetzalcoatl featuring organic and emotional architecture.
Salvador Macías, one of the Jalisco architects who received part of Barragan´s personal property on his death, maintains his legacy. In turn, he now serves as a role model, example and inspiration for creators. And this is not only in Latin America, but all over the world.
Tatiana Bilbao has also drawn from the emotional style of the master. For example, she has not hidden her obsession with the window of his room overlooking the Ortega Garden. Consequently, she has acknowledged it in a poetic way, clearly making it much more than a functional element. It provides instead an opening to the past, to nostalgia, to dreams and desires. It alludes to the emotion and humanity of Barragán. She shows the importance of her own emotions with which she has imbued her different projects throughout her career.
In the same way, Miguel de la Torre and Javier Sánchez were inspired by the houses of Barragán and Cetto for their PADRE project. This condominium reflects the influence of both, the homes they created where the emotional architecture of Luis Barragán is unmistakably present.
Luis Barragán knew how to transfer his emotions and feelings to spaces through colour, light, volumes and geometry. Similarly, he was bold and determined in inciting emotions that other artists have managed to capture over time. In turn, they have drawn from these and gone on to transmit their own emotions.