The Barragán Route: A tour of his houses in Guadalajara

Detail, Casa González Luna (1928)

The walkable tour map:

One fine day, I received a call from an architecture teacher who, in broken Spanish, told me: “Hello, I’m here with a group of French architects. Every year we make a trip to a different country to see its architecture. This time we are in Mexico, and in Guadalajara we are interested in visiting the architecture of Luis Barragán. Can you organize a tour of his works for us? I had never done one, but the following week I found myself walking with a group of about 20 architects of all ages, touring Luis Barragán’s houses.

Luis Barragán is famous throughout the world for his distinctive, unique architecture, based on the influences of his native Mazamitla, a small town in the Sierra del Tigre in Jalisco, as well as the Moorish, Mediterranean and European influences gathered while in Europe, and of his readings of the works of Ferdinand Bac, among others. The result, a new style commonly known as “Escuela Tapatía” (Tapatía School), due to the influence that Barragán, among other Guadalajara architects, had in the late 1920s and early 1930s. (Read about the “Escuela Tapatía” here).

Luis Barragán Morfín worked in Guadalajara during the first stage of his career, his most regionalist stage, before moving to Mexico City. These years, from 1927 to 1934, produced some of his most characteristic works of the Escuela Tapatía style, which although they are not his most popular internationally, they are the ones that definitively defined his unique style in the world.

The Tour

Detail, Casa Robles León (1927)

We begin the tour in what is undoubtedly considered his first work: The Robles León House (Madero 607, Downtown). Although it is a remodeling of an existing regionalist style house, Luis Barragán, only 25 years old, begins to express his unique style in this work, commissioned by Emiliano Robles León to the young Luis, son of one of Mr. Robles León’s clients (he was a lawyer and a Notary Public). Here the carpentry, the smooth walls and the use of glazed tiles stand out, themes which he would repeat throughout his work in Guadalajara. From the outside, the house looks like a typical eclectic construction, and it’s private property, so hopefully they’ll let you in by knocking on the door and asking for a favor.

Facade, rental House for Lic. Emiliano Robles León, 1934

The next stop on the tour is three blocks west, the house at 128 Marcos Castellanos Street, in front of Parque Juárez. This park is also known as Red Park which, by the way, was also designed by Luis Barragán on the site where the Escobedo Penitentiary used to be. This house was also designed and built for Mr. Emiliano Robles León in 1934, and it was the architect’s last residential work in Guadalajara. The evolution of Barragán’s style is clearly appreciated, more modern since it leaves aside the ornament to concentrate on straighter lines, smooth walls and balconies that are more similar to Bauhaus than to Mediterranean regionalism. The roof tiles disappear, although the carpentry still reminds us of his early work.

Facade; House-Studio José Clemente Orozco, 1934

Half a block to the west, on López Cotilla street, we come across the most modern house of Luis Barragán in Guadalajara, The House-Study for the artist José Clemente Orozco (López Cotilla 814). This shows a clear example of the evolution that the architect had in less than ten years, since his first work in 1927. The house shows a sober façade, which barely opens onto the street, and instead is illuminated and ventilated mainly through a central patio to which all the rooms communicate. This house is preserved in very good condition, its facade has been barely modified. The small elevated front garden stands out, creating a subtle but decisive separation with the sidewalk that provides a lot of privacy; the contrast of the color of the ironwork and the simple geometry of the composition, with only three openings, the last towards the roof.

Casas Robles Castillo, 1928

We continue walking west for four blocks, and then one north until we reach Calle de Argentina, on the corner of Av. Vallarta. The Robles Castillo Houses (Av. Vallarta 1095 and Calle Argentina 27). Considered the first complete works of Luis Barragán, the house at Av. Vallarta 1095 remains unoccupied today after several years of not finding a constant tenant. Its sister of a slightly later date, the house at Argentina 27, remains almost intact and continues to function, after 90 years, as a residence.

When in 1926 Dr. Robles Castillo asked Barragán to build a house for rent, it was his first complete commission, at the age of 24, a project that he completed in 1928 shortly after finishing his first work for Lic. Robles León. In these houses we can see the complete expression of the architect, showing his characteristic regional architecture. Characteristic elements of Barragán are evident, such as the use of the roof tile, the semicircular arches, the hallways and the interior carpentry. Dr. Robles Castillo even allowed the young architect to design the furniture, like Lic. Robles León, many designs which are copies of those he designed for the latter’s house.

Detail, rental house for Lic. Robles León, 1929

Continuing west four blocks, and turning three more to the south, we come to another of the rental houses that Mr. Emiliano Robles León commissioned from Luis Barragán, Located at Av. La Paz 1877, corner with Colonias in the middle of Colonia Americana. Surely delighted with the result of the remodeling of his own house, the lawyer ordered Barragán to build this house and another located on the same Av. La Paz corner with Progreso Street in 1929, with the purpose of renting them.

Today, the house is a boutique hotel, although unfortunately it is notorious that the owners have not understood the importance of the work in which their hotel is located, and therefore the aesthetic sense that a heritage work like this should have is completely absent. Even so, among the excessive signs, canvases and color selections of the facade, it is possible to see some details that reveal Barragán’s authorship, and some of his elemental concepts present in his later work. We must remember that this house was one of his first works, just two years after beginning his career with the aforementioned Casa Robles León.

Facade, Casa González Luna (1928)

A few blocks to the south-west, passing Chapultepec Ave., we find what is perhaps Luis Barragán’s best work in Guadalajara: The González Luna House (Efraín González Luna 2058).

Efraín González Luna was a distinguished politician and teacher, who commissioned the young architect to build his house on what used to be Calle Bosque, and because of this house and its prominent inhabitant, today the street is called Efraín González Luna. In those times, the house would be located almost on the western limits of the city, where Barragán and other architects would experiment with the new style eventually called “Escuela Tapatía”. The house is the best example of Barragán’s regionalist architecture, where the design of the patios and the rear garden stands out above all, with the use of water, materials, light & shadow plays, pergolas and other elements that made it famous.

Today the house is owned by ITESO, the Jesuit university of Guadalajara, which bought the house from Don Efraín’s family and commissioned its restoration to the architect Juan Palomar Verea in 1999. It can be visited by checking schedules here: https://cultura.iteso .mx/casa-iteso-clavigero

Facade, Casa Cristo (1929)

We continue north again for about four blocks to find Casa Cristo (Pedro Moreno 1612). In 1929, Mr. Gustavo R. Cristo, then Mayor of Guadalajara, entrusted Barragán with his house. Clearly influenced by his trips to Granada and Córdoba a few years back, Casa Cristo surprises with its Moorish-style designs, vivid colors, and its tall, stylized arches and the use of roofing tile (which would be an important feature of his early work) on fences, ceilings and cornices. Barragán’s characteristic handling of colors, light, and the transition of exterior/interior spaces from the porch to the rooftops, begin to appear. Being clear about the climate and the sunlight of the site, the architect creates an aesthetically external space, but architecturally suitable for the place and the time.

Doors, windows, gates, floors, all of them designed by the same architect make up an eclectic design, stylized through geometric designs and the use of the wall, the clay and color as key elements. The orange, myrtle and medlar trees in the patios remind us of some of the species also found in the Generalife gardens. Since 1988, Casa Cristo has been owned by the College of Architects of the State of Jalisco, which has kept the house in good condition but due to lack of funds has not been able to return it to its original state. Despite this, in 2004 the construction was declared Artistic Patrimony of the Nation. There has been a project since 2009 to turn it into a museum.

Entrance, Casa Franco (1929)

We finish the tour with Casa Franco (Av. La Paz 2207). The house shows the clear influences that Barragán had still fresh from his visits between 1925 and 1926 to Europe, especially to the Alhambra, where Moorish forms and styles are notable, especially in the design of patios, carpentry and doors, and in general in light management. An example of this in the Casa Franco is the roof over the entrance door, where the tile supports remind us of the muqarnas used in the half arches in Moorish architecture. Features of vernacular Mexican architecture are also present, especially those influences that Barragán acquired by observing the constructions in Mazamitla, such as the tile, omnipresent in Barragán’s early works, especially in green and with a glazed finish.

In this house, the wall plastering also stands out, of the type used in Casa Cristo (from the same year), as well as the wooden details in the windows and the entrance gate; these forms already achieved in his first work, the remodeling of the house of Madero 607. Elements that are also repeated in other works, are the benches attached to the wall (Casa González Luna), the false roof tiles superimposed on the parapet (Casa Robles León) and the false windows (Casa Cristo). The house and the adjoining farm on Simón Bolívar Street, were commissioned from the young architect Barragán by Mr. Ildefonso Franco, regional superintendent for the La Nacional Insurance Company, as a house for rent.

Casa Franco is part of the Hotel Demetria complex, a contemporary building designed and owned by the architect Iván Cordero. Inside there is an interesting library and gallery of antiques (which are also for sale). A great place for a coffee or cocktail after the long walk! And, taking advantage of the fact that we are here, we cannot fail to visit Casa Quiñones, considered the first modern residence in the city, and the work of the architect Pedro Castellanos Lambley.

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