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A City of Courtyards

“Rooms open to the sky.” This is how Luis Barragán, the Pritzker-prize winning Mexican architect who had such an enduring influence on the architecture of the late 20th century, described his signature gardens and courtyards, the hallmarks of his architectural portfolio. There is no better way to understand his approach than to visit the State of Jalisco and its capital Guadalajara, the city of his birth.
The results of the first phase of Barragán’s architectural production can be found in the houses he built here before moving to Mexico City where he developed his own take on the International Style. His work remained unappreciated, however, until the later years of his career when he designed no fewer than six buildings in Mexico City, and when New York’s Museum of Modern Art held a retrospective of his work (1977). The final accolade, the Pritzker prize, came in 1980 a few years before his death.
Perhaps that is why it is so interesting to consider Guadalajara through Barragán’s work and see so clearly the inspiration he took from this city. In Guadalajara we not only understand his use of Jalisco’s mirrored balls, an ubiquitous feature of the last phase of his architectural design, like other traditional local arts and craft objects; we also recognize the profound influence the city had on the very essence of his designs. The houses he created in Guadalajara in the early phase of his career were fairly traditional in style, but the courtyard structures of Guadalajara with their fountains, overhanging eaves and heavy stone walls left an indelible image on his memory that is reflected in the way Barragán manipulated public and private spaces, his use of limited materials, and masterful understanding of light for which his work is renowned.
A closer look at the fabric of Guadalajara gives us an insight into the DNA of Barragán’s architecture. The city’s historic...

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