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Luis Barragán’s Gardens of El Pedregal

Luis Barragán’s Gardens of El Pedregal
Keith L. Eggener
Princeton Architectural Press
Publication Date: 

cloth, 162 p., $40

As a response to the functionalism of the International style of architecture, the influence of Mexican cultural values, and a desire to capture the genius loci, Mexican architect Luis Barragan had a vision: it was of a suburban landscape that integrated the natural habitat with a new building style, identified as “minimilism” by architecture historian Alejandro Cabeza. The exclusive residential subdivision that developed in the 1940’s from Barragan’s inspiration was called the Gardens of El Pedregal. Located in the southwestern edge of Mexico City in a basaltic region formed from lava flows, the development now occupies 1,250 acres. Author Keith Eggener relates how this seminal project became one of the most significant architectural ventures in Mexico through its emphasis of the complementary contrast of the works of nature and man.

A native of Guadalajara, Barragan came to Mexico City in the 1930’s, after political unrest stemming from the 1910 revolution had calmed and an expanding middle-class society demanded better accommodations in a booming economy. Departing from the traditional colonial architecture, Barragan designed houses and apartments in a more functional style. He later disassociated himself from his earlier designs and began developing new concepts, illustrating his theories by constructing gardens for his own use. In 1945 Barragan initiated steps to bring about his vision: he began to purchase property in the Pedregal and to make plans for this enterprise that became the first automobile subdivision in Mexico.

Barragan’s almost surrealistic landscapes contained indigenous vegetation and lava formations on site, in walls and patios. They contained lawns, reflecting pools, and artificial ponds carved from the rocky surfaces. The residences were built with thick stone walls, often painted with the strong colors favored in Mexico. Stone walls, wood and painted steel fences enframed the landscape vistas. Eggener takes us through the creative process for the development; the model homes that promoted the site through photographs in national and international press and advertising; and the gradual decline of the original plan as individual properties became further divided and architects returned to more traditional architecture. In the closing chapter, the author reflects on the influence of Barragan on modern Mexico and the project that was a turning point in Mexican architecture and landscape design.

This in-depth study of the mid-century development and its creator fills a void in architectural history, and the publication’s extensive illustrations help keep the images of the work of this Mexican master architect before an appreciative public.

— Marilyn K. Alaimo, garden writer and volunteer, Chicago Botanic Garden