Luis Barragán
Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate
1980 




Contents of this page:

...About Luis Barragán, a brief biography

Photo Gallery

Citation from the Pritzker Jury

Acceptance Speech by Luis Barragán

About Prizes - address by J. Irwin Miller, Pritzker Juror

Website of the Barragán Foundation

Return To Laureates List Page


...about Luis Barragán 

1980 Laureate 

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 with Nature. 

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 lights." 

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." 

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Citation 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 extremes. 

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Luis 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 called so. 

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 palette. 

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 

Unseeing eyes 

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 revelations. 

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. 

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About Prizes 

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. 


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