Revisiting Luis Barragán's Casa Pedregal
For Mexico City-bound modern architecture enthusiasts, the question is not whether to spend some time exploring the oeuvre of the country's beloved Pritzker laureate, but how many houses can be sardined into a long weekend's itinerary. The greater D.F. is home to an entire constellation of Barragán icons, some of them easier to infiltrate than others.
This year makes a stronger case than ever for a pilgrimage to the residence formerly known as Casa Prieto López, designed at the beginning of the architect's third and most celebrated artistic phase. Recently rechristened Casa Pedregal, the house is now named for the neighborhood where it is located, an affluent suburb on the southwestern outskirts of town. Back in the 1940s, when Barragán purchased the real estate cheaply from the government, it was a desolate petrified lava field. In the years that ensued, it served as the canvas for an ambitious modernist urbanization project, in which Barragán and his contemporaries sought to develop the area while preserving the integrity of its unique ecosystem.
Originally commissioned by Eduardo Prieto López, a well-to-do friend of the architect, Casa Pedregal remained in the Prieto López family for decades. In 2013, it was purchased by César Cervantes, an art collector and businessman with a mission: return the structure to its original condition. His team completed a year of research before moving a single stone. At times, between the architects, engineers, and craftsmen enlisted in the project, there were upwards of 100 local experts on the job.
After the three-year restoration was finished in 2016, Cervantes turned his attention to the Prieto López family's former stables. The 60-year-old reclaimed structure will soon be home to an architecture and design library, an interdisciplinary residency program, and a café to welcome neighbors and Barragán pilgrims alike.
In short, there's never been a more opportune time to visit (or revisit) Casa Pedregal.
While the clean lines and planes of the house's courtyard are in keeping with the principles of European modernism, vernacular materials (volcanic rock, natural pigment, Oaxacan ceramics) lend a distinctly Mexican warmth.
Barragán used limestone as a base to stucco the exterior (and interior) walls of the house, a pre-Hispanic technique picked up from pyramid-building predecessors.
"All architecture which does not express serenity fails in its spiritual mission," Barragán once said. In the entryway of Casa Pedregal, the clamor of Mexico City falls instantly away.
Montezuma Cypress trees supplied the raw material for the home's custom consoles and cabinets, all of which are Barragán originals. The native hardwood, known locally as sabino or ahuehuete, has a distinctive yellow hue.
Though monumental in scale, the house reveals itself gradually. Grander spaces feature a more measured palette of soothing tonal grays.
Part of the pleasure of visiting Barragán's residential projects is seeing them in use. Casa Pedregal is not a museum, so don't be surprised to find tortillas on the griddle in the irresistible pink-tiled kitchen.
A table lamp of Barragán's design (with signature parchment shade) shares a sideboard with Cervantes's music collection.
Barragán preferred to sketch onsite, using life-size models to track the movement of light and shadows through space. In each room, their daily performance is stunningly choreographed.
"I don't divide architecture, landscape, and gardening," said Barragán. "To me they are one." Particularly at Pedregal, he sought to express what he considered the harmonious relationship between architecture and nature.
Rather than altering the existing topography to accommodate his creative agenda, Barragán chose to incorporate its idiosyncrasies (i.e. craggy outcroppings of petrified lava) in the house's landscape design.