Color in the Architecture of Luis Barragán

October 8, 2019
The architectural work of Luis Barragán stands out for all the emotions it conveys. For him, color was a vital, elemental tool to highlight the harmony of his spaces.

Color holds an important place in the architecture of Luis Barragán. It’s as important to his work as dimensions and light. His colorful buildings stand out thanks to the light that shines on their rough textures and reflecting pools.

Luis Barragán was a major figure in architecture and landscape architecture in Latin America, and all over the world. The work of this Mexican artist displayed a great understanding of how to use light and color.

His work is full of simple, straight lines, but is bold in its distribution and selection of colors. In his architectural work, he used color as a graphic tool. That, combined with his masterful command of light, made for spaces that truly came alive.

Light takes on a new dimension in his work. The way it reflects gives the buildings a sense of motion and emotion. Barragán’s interplay between light and color evokes a constant change in sensation.

These are concepts he applied equally in both his interior and exterior design projects. As an architect, he also showed an immense ability to use the landscape. Understanding his work is a key part of understanding the relationship between buildings and landscapes in modern architecture.

Luis Barragán – influences on his work

Luis Barragán had a peaceful childhood on his family ranch in Corrales. This rural Mexican environment was one of his first strong memories and was clearly a major influence for him as an artist.

Growing up surrounded by nature, trees, and folk traditions, vernacular architecture and folk culture were extremely important in his life. 

In his 1980 Pritzker Prize acceptance speech, he said: “Underlying all that I have achieved, such as it is, I share 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.”

Folk culture was a major influence on his work, whether Mexican traditions to the sensory aspects of local surroundings. The architecture of Luis Barragán is full of colors, smells, and celebrations from his country of birth, Mexico.

Color is also an important part of Mexican culture. Folk designs use vivid colors and make them into a singular part of their art. Barragán masterfully used this approach to color to create intense, vibrant spaces.

In 1924, he decided to take a trip around the south of Europe and the north of Africa. During his trip, he was taken aback by the serenity and monumentality of the Alhambra in Granada, and the vernacular architecture in Africa. He also attended several speeches by Le Corbusier while he was in Europe.

Color in the architecture of Luis Barragán

If you want to understand the process Luis Barragán used to determine his color schemes, you have to understand the mechanisms of his designs. He always made sketches and drawings to get a concrete sense of the spaces he had in mind.

He would then pass these early sketches to his team, and they would produce floor plans. They would discuss, debate, and modify these plans until they reached their final draft.

Before they began construction, though, Barragán would take one last step. He would invite  architect, artists, and art historian friends to evaluate the project. He would show them his sketches and give speeches to give them a sense of what he wanted. 

The colors and materials in his work weren’t usually part of the original scheme. They actually came about through intuition as he thought about what he wanted the space to be.

Implementing changes

The unique thing about his creative process is that he was a big believer in the idea of experimenting with the building in construction. He would also frequently change the dimensions of walls or simply add new ones to modify the spaces.

Barragán used the same process to determine the final colors for his construction projects. He would temporarily paint colors on cardboard panels that he placed on the walls to get a sense of what the final product would look like.

He could then switch out those panels for others, painted in different colors. Or, he could simply move them to change the layout without changing the color scheme. There were also many cases where the color had already been painted on the walls and he wanted to change the shade because of the way the light hit it.

You can see that color was a major component in Barragán’s work, even when he was applying it at the last minute to his projects. It’s the medium he used to convey the spatial sensations, which were linked to the surfaces and proportions of the building.

I believe in ’emotional architecture.’ It is very important for humankind that architecture should move by its beauty.”

-Luis Barragán-

The Casa Gilardi – use of color

Luis Barragán designed the Casa Gilardi.

The Casa Gilardi is a building in Mexico City. It is located to the south of the Bosque de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Park) and is made up of two structures, joined by a patio and a corridor.

The first and bigger of the two structures is three floors tall and contains the bedrooms. The second structure is on the other side of the patio and contains the functional spaces like the kitchen.

Color takes on a new dimension in the Casa Gilardi. He used lilac for the patio, turning it into a vibrant, lively space. The corridor serves as a transition space to take you to a couple of crucial parts of the home – a dining room and an indoor pool.

You can’t help but notice the detached pink wall outside the pool. It completely contrasts with the horizontal water and is nearly as tall as the ceiling. The separate wall gives the space an entirely new dimension. It makes it into a serene, mystical environment and creates a tension within the surroundings.

In conclusion, it’s no exaggeration to say that Luis Barragán’s use of color has a profound link to his hometown. The way he used it in his architecture has been the subject of countless studies and essays. People can’t help but try to analyze and dissect the vibrant, mystical spaces he designed.