CUADRA SAN CRISTÓBAL

Designed by Luis Barragán, completed 1968
Mexico City, Mexico
The Mexican Pritzker laureate Luis Barragán (1902–88) designed Cuadra
San Cristóbal in collaboration with his protégé Andrés Casillas in 1967–
68. The Cuadra San Cristóbal, along with the design of his own house and
the Chapel of Capuchinas Sacramentarias, are premier examples of
Mexican contemporary architecture. His house, built in 1947, undoubtedly
demonstrates a period of maturity in Barragán’s career, and the Chapel of
Capuchinas Sacramentarias (1952–55) is a masterpiece in its exploration
of light, demonstrating great refinement and sophistication. These three
works together represent the pinnacle of “emotional architecture,”
conveying nostalgia and spirituality as defined by Barragán’s Creole
heritage.
Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Barragán spent his childhood in the now nonextant family
hacienda of Los Corrales in La Sierra del Tigre. He acquired a taste for the vernacular in
the small towns of Jalisco and developed his innate sensibility of light, color, texture, and
to a greater extent, myth, silence, solitude, and serenity.
Cuadra San Cristóbal was one of Barragán’s most comprehensive and complex mature
works. His designs were heavily influenced by conversations with his friends (the
humanist Ignacio Díaz Morales and the artist Jesús Reyes Ferreira) and the written works
(poetry and essays) of Marcel Proust, Charles Baudelaire, and Valle Inclán.
Barragán sought out metaphysics, surrealism, ethics, and psychology rather than the
conventional texts of his discipline for inspiration. Les Jardins enchantés (The Enchanted Gardens) and Les Colombiers
(The Dovecotes), written and illustrated by the French landscape architect Ferdinand Bac
(1859–1952), as well as Cyril Connolly’s The Unquiet Grave, influenced Barragán’s first houses.
J.M.Buendía explains how Boris Godounov (published in 1925), with colorful illustrations by
Choukhaeff, influenced Barragán to use color combinations from this book in some of his
works.
As a concluding phase of the Cuadra San Cristóbal project, Barragán developed the
public park Las Arboledas in 1958. He designed a comprehensive program of entrances,
plazas, the great red wall, and the fountains El Bebedero and El Campanario (The Spout
Entries A–F 625
and The Belfry, 1959). Barragán intended Las Arboledas to become a horse lovers’
paradise. However, the development became a popular destination for middle-class
suburbanites. In 1963 Barragán, himself an accomplished equestrian, purchased a series
of plots within Las Arboledas that he called Los Clubes. He planned this development as
an exclusive and private equestrian experience, catering specifically to the elite. The
Fuente de los Amantes (The Lovers’ Fountain, 1964), Cuadra San Cristóbal, and the
home of the Egestrome family reflect a powerful refinement of Barragán’s
phenomenological explorations of exterior space. The sounds of water emerging from
scuppers and horses’ hooves in contact with the stone paving evoke sounds of the streets
of Mazamitla, demonstrating a physical and psychological connection to memory. The
fragmentation of space through the use of enormous walls that are often punctured and
juxtaposed to visually frame the landscape and the reflective surfaces of pools of water
enrich what is a surrealist space with metaphysical contradictions. Barragán’s
architecture relies less on theoretical principles and rational formulas than on emotional
and subjective experiences.
Barragán presented the design for Cuadra San Cristóbal as a gift to the Egestrome
family under the condition that a large plot of land would be purchased for the project.
Andrés Casillas explains that before the design, he and Barragán visited several small
towns and haciendas in the state of Mexico. These visits evoked images of the project
that were then developed through models and perspective sketches. The first model of the
complex was exactly what was to be constructed later, excluding the enormous pink wall
with two slotlike cuts for vertical ventilation that required approximately 70 sketches
before the final proposal. According to Casillas, Barragán designed by dividing the
project into isolated moments, individually created and later integrated into the whole.
For Barragán there was no bad proposal: all proposals had considerable potential. He
would often make changes in a project during its construction. In San Cristóbal he would
tie lengths of cloth to wooden poles to mock up the position of a wall, as was the case
with the with wall that defines the entrance to the complex. Barragán would also mount
colored paper over the unfinished white walls to see whether the deep pinks, maroons,
and purples would blend with the light and mood of the environment. Almost always
immersed in a creative act of emotion and intuition, his process was devoid of rational
thinking.
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