Luis Barragán, 1902-1988, was born in Guadalajara,
Mexico. His training and schooling was in engineering, but he taught himself
architectural skills. In the 1920's, he traveled extensively in France
and Spain, and later in 1931, lived in Paris for a time, attending Le Corbusier's
lectures. His travels since then extended to Morocco in 1951. His architectural
practice was in Guadalajara from 1927 until 1936 when he moved to Mexico
City and remained until his death. His travels stimulated an interest in
the native architecture of North Africa and the Mediterranean, which he
related to construction in his own country.
His work has been called minimalist, but it is nonetheless
sumptuous in color and texture. Pure planes, be they walls of stucco, adobe,
timber, or even water, are his compositional elements, all interacting
Barragán called himself a landscape architect, writing
in Contemporary Architects, published by St. Martins Press, "I believe
that architects should design gardens to be used, as much as the houses
they build, to develop a sense of beauty and the taste and inclination
toward the fine arts and other spiritual values." And further, "Any work
of architecture which does not express serenity is a mistake."
A religious man, Barragán and his work have been
described as "mystical" as well as serene. His chapel for the Capuchinas
Sacramentarias is evidence of both qualities. Because of his interest in
horses, he designed many stables, fountains and water troughs that manifest
many of these same qualities.
Barragán has had a profound influence not only on
three generations of Mexican architects, but many more throughout the world.
In his acceptance of the Pritzker Architecture Prize,
he said, "It is impossible to understand Art and the glory of its history
without avowing religious spirituality and the mythical roots that lead
us to the very reason of being of the artistic phenomenon. Without the
one or the other there would be no Egyptian pyramids, nor those of ancient
Mexico. Would the Greek temples and Gothic cathedrals have existed?"
Further, he called it "alarming" that publications
devoted to architecture seemed to have banished the words, "Beauty, Inspiration,
Magic, Spellbound, Enchantment, as well as the concepts of Serenity, Silence,
Intimacy and Amazement." He apologized for perhaps not having done these
concepts complete justice, but said "they have never ceased to be my guiding
As he closed his remarks, he spoke of "The Art of
Seeing. It is essential to an architect to know how to see: I mean, to
see in such a way that the vision is not overpowered by rational analysis."
from the Pritzker Jury
We are honoring Luis Barragán for his commitment
to architecture as a sublime act of the poetic imagination. He has created
gardens, plazas, and fountains of haunting beauty— metaphysical landscapes
for meditation and companionship.
A stoical acceptance of solitude as man's fate permeates
Barragán's work. His solitude is cosmic, with Mexico as the temporal abode
he lovingly accepts. It is to the greater glory of this earthly house that
he has created gardens where man can make peace with himself, and a chapel
where his passions and desire may be forgiven and his faith proclaimed.
The garden is the myth of the Beginning and the chapel that of the End.
For Barragán, architecture is the form man gives to his life between both
Barragán's Acceptance Speech
I welcome the opportunity to express my admiration
for the United States of America, generous patron of the arts and sciences,
which—as in so many instances —has transcended its geographical frontiers
and purely national interests to confer this high distinetion on a son
of Mexico, thus recognizing the universality of cultural values and, in
particular, those of my native country.
But as no one ever owes all to his own individual
effort, it would be ungrateful not to remember all those who throughout
my lifetime have contributed to my work with their talents, assistance
and encouragement: fellow architects, photographers, writers, journalists,
as well as personal friends who have honored me by taking an active interest
in my work.
I take this occasion to present some impressions
and recollections that, to some extent, sum up the ideology behind my work.
In this regard, Mr.Jay Pritzker stated in an announcement to the press
with excessive generositywhat I consider essential to that ideology: that
I had been chosen as the recipient of this prize for having devoted myself
to architecture "as a sublime act of poetic imagination." Consequently,
I am only a symbol for all those who have been touched by Beauty.
It is alarming that publications devoted to architecture
have banished from their pages the words Beauty, Inspiration, Magic, Spellbound,
Enchantment, as well as the concepts of Serenity, Silence, Intimacy and
Amazement All these have nestled in my soul, and though 1 am fully aware
that I have not done them complete justice in my work, they have never
ceased to be my guiding lights.
Religion and Myth. It is impossible to understand
Art and the glory of its history without avowing religious spirituality
and the mythical roots that lead us to the very reason of being of the
artistic phenomenon. Without the one or the other there would be no Egyptian
pyramids nor those of ancient Mexico. Would the Greek temples and Gothic
cathedrals have existed? Would the amazing marvels of the Renaissance and
the Baroque have come about?
And in anothler field, would the ritual dances of
the socalled primitive cultures have developed? Would we now be the heirs
of the inexhaustible artistic treasure of worldwide popular sensitivity?
Without the desire for God, our planet would be a sorry wasteland of ugliness.
"The irrational logic harboured in the myths and in all true religious
experience has been the fountainhead of the artistic process at all times
and in all places " These are words of my good friend, Edmundo O'Gorman,
and, with or without his permission, I have made them mine.
Beauty. The invincible difficulty that the
philosophers have in defining the meaning of this word is unequivocal proof
of its ineffable mystery. Beauty speaks like an oracle, and ever since
man has heeded its message in an infinite number of ways: it may be in
the use of tatoos, in the choice of a seashell necklace by which the bride
enhances the promise of her surrender, or, again, in the apparently superfluous
ornamentation of everyday tools and domestic utensils, not to speak of
temples and palaces and even, in our day, in the industrialized products
of modern technology. Human life deprived of beauty is not worthy of being
Silence. In the gardens and homes designed
by me, I have always endeavored to allow for the interior placid murmur
of silence, and in my fountains, silence sings.
Solitude. Only in intimate communion with
solitude may man find himself. Solitude is good company and my architecture
is not for those who fear or shun it.
Serenity. Serenity is the great and true antidote
against anguish and fear, and today, more than ever, it is the architect's
duty to make of it a permanent guest in the home, no matter how sumptuous
or how humble. Throughout my work I have always strived to achieve serenity,
but one must be on guard not to destroy it by the use of an indiscriminate
Joy. How can one forget joy? I believe that
a work of art reaches perfection when it conveys silent joy and serenity.
Death. The certainty of death is the spring
of action and therefore of life, and in the implicit religious element
in the work of art, life triumphs over death.
Gardens. In the creation of a garden, the
architect invites the partnership of the Kingdom of Nature. In a beautiful
garden, the majesty of Nature is ever present, but Nature reduced to human
proportions and thus transformed into the most efficient haven against
the aggressiveness of contemporary life.
Ferdinand Bac taught us that "the soul of gardens
shelters the greatest sum of serenity at man's disposal ," and it is to
him that I am indebted for my longing to create a perfect garden. He said,
speaking of his gardens at Ies Colombiers, "in this small domain, I have
done nothing else but joined the millenary solidarity to which we are all
subject: the ambition of expressing materially a sentiment, common to many
men in search of a link with nature, by creating a place of repose of peaceable
pleasure " It will appear obvious, then, that a garden must combine the
poetic and the msterious with a feeling of serenity and joy. There is no
fuller expression of vulgarity than a vulgar garden.
To the south of Mexico City lies a vast extension
of volcanic rock, arid, overwhelmed by the beauty of this landscape, I
decided to create a series of gardens to humanize, without destroying,
its magic. While walking along the lava crevices, under the shadow of imposing
ramparts of live rock, I suddenly discovered, to my astonishment, small
secret green valIeysthe shepherds call them "jewels" surrounded and enclosed
by the most fantastic, capricious rock formations wrought on soft, melted
rock by the onslaught of powerful prehistoric winds. The uneXpected discovery
of these "jewels" gave me a sensation similar to the one experienced when,
having walked through a dark and narrow tunnel of the Alhambra, I suddenly
emerged into the serene, silent and solitary "Patio of the Myrtles" hidden
in the entrails of that ancient palace. Somehow I had the feeling that
it enclosed what a perfect garden no matter its sizeshould enclose: nothing
less than the entire Universe.
This memorable epiphany has always been with me,
and it is not by mere chance that from the first garden for which I am
responsible all those following are attempts to capture the echo of the
immense lesson to be derived from the aesthetic wisdom of the Spanish Moors.
Fountains. A fountain brings us peace, joy
and restful sensuality and reaches the epitomy of its very essence when
by its power to bewitch it will stir dreams of distant worlds.
While awake or when sleeping, the sweet memories
of marvelous fountains have accompanied me throughout my life. I recall
the fountains of my childhood; the drains for excess water of the dam;
the dark ponds in the recess of abandoned orchards; the curbstone of shallow
wells in the convent patios; the small country springs, quivering mirrors
of ancient giant waterloving trees, and then, of course, the old aqueducts
perennial reminders of Imperial Rome which from lost horizons hurry their
liquid treasure to deliver it with the rainbow ribbons of a waterfall.
Architecture. My architecture is autobiographical,
as Emilio Ambasz pointed out in his book on my work published by the Museum
of Modern Art in New York. Underlying all that I have achievedsuch as it
isare the memories of my father's ranch where I spent
my childhood and adolescence. In my work I have always strived to adapt
to the needs of modern living the magic of those remote nostalgic years.
The lessons to be learned from the unassuming architecture
of the village and provincial towns of my country have been a permanent
source of inspiration. Such, for instance, the whitewashed walls; the peace
to be found in patios and orchards; the colorful streets; the humble majesty
of the village squares surrounded by shady open corridors. And as there
is a deep historical link between these teachings and those of the North
African and Moroccan Villages, they too have enriched my perception of
beauty in architectural simplicity.
Being a Catholic, I have frequently visited with
reverence the now empty monumental monastic buildings that we inherited
from the powerful religious faith and architectural genius of our colonial
ancestors, and I have always been deeply moved by the peace and wellbeing
to be experienced in those uninhabited cloisters and solitary courts. How
I have wished that these feelings may leave their mark on my work.
The Art of Seeing. It is essential to an architect
to know how to see: I mean, to see in such a way that the vision is not
overpowered by rational analysis. And in this respect I will take advantage
of this opportunity to pay homage to a very dear friend who, through his
infallible aesthetic taste, taught us the difficult art of seeing with
innocence. I refer to the Mexican painter Jesus (Chucho) Reyes Ferreira,
for whose wise teachings I publicly acknowledge my indebtedness.
And it may not be out of place to quote another great
friend of mine and of the Arts, the poet Carlos Pellicer:
Through sight the good and the bad
we do perceive
Souls deprived of hope.
Nostalgia. Nostalgia is the poetic awareness
of our personal past, and since the artist's own past is the mainspring
of his creative potential, the architect must listen and heed his nostalgic
My associate and friend, the young architect Raul
Ferrera, as well as our small staff, share with me the ideology which I
have tried to present. We have worked and hope to continue to work inspired
by the faith that the aesthetic truth of those ideas will in some measure
contribute toward dignifying human existence.
by J. Irwin Miller
an address at the presentation ceremony for Barragán
Prizes have been awarded by humans to their fellows
as far back as history records—for achievements in war, in poetry, in music,
in athletics, in whatever fields were valued by particular generations
at particular times.
The prize might be a laurel wreath, a medal, Blenheim
Palace, the king's daughter, or a duchy.
Prize ceremonies have been occasions for general
celebration, or they have expressed simple gratitude, but they have also
in a very significant way expressed the need to reward excellence, the
human achievement at its most creative.
Sometimes a generation's judgment of its own artists
and creators has been flawed. Socrates was put to death. Mozart buried
in a pauper's grave, and Wren discharged as architect of St. Paul's. The
list is long, but so is the other list. Ictinus and Callicrates were esteemed
by 5th century Athens. The honored names of the architects of Hagia Sophia
survive to this day. And during their lifetimes, Wright, Mies, and Corbusier
were recognized publicly as giants of their century.
It is a good thing for a society to rejoice in splendid
achievements, to hold up excellence to all its members, and to call attention
to those who accomplish great works. These rare person remind the rest
of us what we have in us to do if we will achieve only a portion of the
commitment, the discipline, the clear vision, and the taste for work (even
to the threshold of pain) which are invariable characteristics of the infinitesimal
number of the greatest in any time.
A world prize in architecture is long overdue. "First
we shape our buildings, then our buildings shape us." Architects have built
slums and even whole cities which crush the human spirit. But always a
few have designed other and better kinds of cities, more humane housing,
cathedrals, colleges, parks, centers of government, even factories and
barns, which reveal truth, which give us joy for centuries, and which shame
us from sinking to our meanest.
This prize gives a just and due reward to the small
band of the best, but even more it serves to remind every member of the
discipline that architecture can and should be more than a close professional
guild. Architecture, indeed every profession at its most admirable, is
a calling, a "vocation" in the root meaning of that ancient word.