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Luis Barragan Sotogrande

Casa MexicanaSotogrande architect

LUIS BARRAGAN (1902-1988) was one of Mexico’s most influential 20th century architects. Famed for his mastery of space and light, he reinvented the International Style as a colourful, sensuous genre of Mexican modernism.

Although not quite down-and-out, Luis Barragán (1902-1988) had certainly hit a rough patch when a letter arrived at his Mexico City studio in 1975 asking if the Museum of Modern Art in New York could stage a retrospective of his career.

Then 73, Luis Barragán had built nothing outside his native Mexico, and was virtually forgotten there. He was so hard-up that he occasionally sold letters, sketches and books from his archive to make ends meet. But the beauty and orginality of Barragán’s buildings – like the Tlálpan Convent and Torri Satélite in Mexico City – had made him a legend among his fellow architects, and they lobbied hard for his MoMA exhibition. A few years later, Luis Barragán was awarded the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s answer to the Nobel.

Barragán is now regarded as one of the most important architects of the 20th century. His buildings are renowned for their mastery of space and light, but Barragán was equally influential as a landscape architect and urban planner. Cited as an inspiration by a succession of other Pritzker winners – from Tadao Ando and Frank Gehry, to Rem Koolhaas – he is one of the handful of architects who succeeded in creating their own version of modernism by imbuing it with the warmth and vibrance of his native Mexico.

During his trip, Barragán visited the 1925 Exposition des Arts-Décoratifs in Paris, an event which popularised Art Déco and introduced the public to the glacial, industrially-produced International Style designs of Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand. Barragán was impressed by their work, but the houses he designed after his return to Guadalajara in 1927 were fairly traditional in style. It was only after another foreign trip in the early 1930s – when he befriended the exiled Mexican muralist, José Clemente Orozco, in New York before meeting Le Corbusier and the landscape architect, Ferdinand Bac, in Paris – that Barragán settled in Mexico City and developed his own take on modernism.

Barragán transformed the International Style into a vibrant, sensuous Mexican aesthetic by adding vivid colours and textural contrasts and accentuating his buildings’ natural surroundings. He once said that light and water were his favourite themes, and soon became skilled at manipulating them both in buildings like the 1966 Folke Egerstrom House and Stables built around a brightly coloured, sculptural sequence of horse pools (Barragán loved horse riding) and the 1975-77 Francisco Gilardi House framing an indoor pool.

One of Barragan’s disciples was Ricardo Legorreta, the architect who introduced Mexican modernism to a global audience and who brought his crisp, brightly colored aesthetic to downtown Los Angeles with a controversial 1993 redesign of Pershing Square.

During the sixties and seventies, Legorreta was recognized for his work in Mexico, like the Camino Real Hotel in Mexico City, Cancun and Ixtapa, The America Insurance offices, Banamex and IBM Mexico, laboratories for Smith & Kline and factories for Kodak, Nissan and Renault, as well as housing projects of social interest for the government agency Infonavit, and private residential projects.

It was Legorreta, who came to Sotogrande and built one of the most prestigious villas in Sotogrande.

The house was planned around a central courtyard in order to focus on life inside, with a window onto the sea view. Thanks to the superb climate of southern Spain the circulation could be opened up so that all the rooms enjoyed the central courtyard. The exterior gardens comprised regional vegetation such as olive trees and arid climate plants, on a base of yellow earth like that used in Seville’s bullring.

Legorreta won the price of “Best Architecture (Single Unit) in Spain 2008″ – European Property Awards, CNBC.

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