Page C1.2 . 04 December 2002                     
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  • Remembering a Barragán Landscape
     
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    Remembering a Barragán Landscape

    continued

    Large, square, smooth concrete paving blocks spread out on either side of the gate, broken sporadically by contorted rock formations. Here as elsewhere at El Pedregal, Barragán received valuable advice on color and composition from the painter Chucho Reyes.

    Like the other original ironwork throughout El Pedregal, the gate was brightly painted, in this case a fluorescent cherry red. The purple-black rocks were tinted in places with special oxide paints developed by the painter Xavier Guerrero; colors used included rust, ocher, pale green or blue, and sometimes a brilliant pink.

    To the plaza's west, enclosed by a row of low iron pickets, massive lava boulders, and volcanic-stone walls varying in height from about 10 to 30 feet (3 to 9 meters), was a fountain intermittently shooting jets of water into the air — the plaza's namesake. These walls also framed views of the volcanoes and gently rolling mountains in the distance.

    Endangered Animal

    On the plaza's eastern side stood a reinforced concrete wall, again about 20 feet (6 meters) high and originally painted white or pale gray. Beside this was the concrete Animal del Pedregal sculpture by Mathias Goeritz.

    Inspired by a prehistoric animal figure etched into the rocks elsewhere in the Pedregal, the Animal del Pedregal provided an oddly archaic and expressionistic note of welcome: raising its head and bellowing at the sky, its muscles tensed and twisted, frozen in convulsion like the lava all around it, like a horse with its legs cut out from under it.

    The plaza has been almost completely destroyed. Large new office buildings now crowd it on either side; one of these stands directly atop the former-fountain site. Goeritz's sculpture survives, as do portions of the stone and concrete walls and the iron gate.

    But most of the original ironwork was removed some time after 1968, when student-led riots at the University spilled over to El Pedregal, causing some damage. The road and plaza floor were asphalt-paved, and most of the lava outcroppings extracted. Parked cars and billboards have further eroded the plaza's space.

    These changes, along with the heavy vehicular traffic along San Jerónimo and Fuentes and the persistent air pollution, have radically altered the character of the space. Without fountains, mountain views, or lava, the plaza today bears little resemblance to its former self. In this changed setting Goeritz's Animal has taken on a new poignancy, suggesting the pathos of a lone survivor, or an animal in a zoo.

    Demonstration Gardens

    Another key site shown on early maps of El Pedregal was the Lote Muestra, or Demonstration Gardens. This was located on the north side of Cascada, between Agua and Fuentes, just south of the Plaza de las Fuentes. Though designed for public inspection, the gardens here were planned as models for the development of private space.

    Along with the Demonstration Houses by Barragán and Cetto, these gardens were intended to entice prospective buyers and demonstrate the Pedregal's potential as a site for garden-homes. Beyond this they were to illustrate Barragán's idea of "correct" building, promoting the sort of "harmony' between architecture and landscape that he desired.

    At some point after 1953, the Demonstration Gardens were divided and sold to accommodate private residences. Though the grounds of these may still contain portions of Barragán's design, all are now closed to the public.

    Occupying about 7.4 acres (3 hectares), the Demonstration Gardens were enclosed by volcanic-stone walls and iron fences and entered through metal or rough-hewn wood gates.

    According to writer Bleecker Marquette, who visited the gardens in 1950, "The most striking thing of all is the resulting color scheme — the intense black of the lava, the brilliant green of the grass, and the brown-red of the tanbark walks... The walls have been tinted green — not just any green, but a shade that matches precisely the green trunks of an indigenous tree that grows in the Iava beds."

    Stone in the Landscape

    For sculptural effect, rocks and vegetation were left largely in place, and these, along with the oddly deformed trees Barragán acquired at local nurseries, were sometimes isolated within expanses of lawn or gravel, as in a Zen rock garden.

    Crevices between the lava formations were cleared as paths, and at several points, rough-cut stairways passed between rock terraces. These stairways led to pools or fountains of various configurations, or to small patches of flat ground, where loam was brought in and lawns planted. The smooth surfaces of the lawns and pools provided contrast to the jagged rocks, while fountains lent kinetic and aural elements to the mix.

    One fountain consisted of a simple water jet bubbling gently from the center of a rock-lined pond. At another, the Fuente de los Patos, or Fountain of the Ducks, water fell into a small pool from a rustic wood trough set atop one of the surrounding rock walls.

    During summer evenings in the 1950s, classic Spanish plays, produced by Barragán and the painter and sculptor Juan Soriano, were performed here for the general public.

    Originally, a small sales pavilion of Barragán's design stood here. Cubic and austere, the low-lying, flat-roofed, reinforced-concrete building was distinguished by a tall square tower perforated by dovecotes. Comparable dovecoted towers were also used at the slightly later Prieto López House, at the two Demonstration Houses, and at Barragán's houses in Tacubaya.

    Dovecotes were one of Barragán's favorite features, serving to modulate visually his otherwise heavy architectural masses. More than this, they were indicative of his sense of stagecraft, intended to attract birds whose noises and droppings would lend both an aural element and an instant "aged" patina to the setting.

    This article is excerpted from Luis Barragán's Gardens of El Pedregal, copyright © 2001, available from Princeton Architectural Press and at Amazon.com.

    Keith L. Eggener is an assistant professor of American art and architecture at the University of Missouri-Columbia. His articles have appeared in The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Winterthur Portfolio, American Art, and other publications.

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

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    ArchWeek Image

    In Mexico City's Plaza de las Fuentes, by Luis Barragán, was a fountain intermittently shooting jets of water into the air.
    Photo: Armando Salas Portugal, Courtesy Barragan Foundation

    ArchWeek Image

    The concrete Animal del Pedregal sculpture by Mathias Goeritz.
    Photo: Armando Salas Portugal, Courtesy Barragan Foundation

    ArchWeek Image

    The plaza by Luis Barragán. has been almost completely destroyed. Large new office buildings now crowd it on either side.
    Photo: Keith L. Eggener

    ArchWeek Image

    The Demonstration Gardens of El Pedregal, with metal and rough-hewn wood gates.
    Photo: Armando Salas Portugal, Courtesy Barragan Foundation

    ArchWeek Image

    Crevices between the lava formations were cleared as paths, and rough-cut stairways passed between rock terraces.
    Photo: Armando Salas Portugal, Courtesy Barragan Foundation

    ArchWeek Image

    In the Fountain of the Ducks, at the Demonstration Gardens of El Pedregal, water fell into a small pool from a rustic wood trough.
    Photo: Armando Salas Portugal, Courtesy Barragan Foundation

    ArchWeek Image

    Now gone, a small sales pavilion by Luis Barragán. was distinguished by a tall square tower perforated by dovecotes.
    Photo: Armando Salas Portugal, Courtesy Barragan Foundation

    ArchWeek Image

    Luis Barragán's Gardens of El Pedregal, by Keith L. Eggener.
    Image: Princeton Architectural Press

     

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