For all of the leafy boulevards, crumbling beaux art mansions, and deco flourishes I encountered on my many ambles through Mexico City, it's the modernist buildings of Luis Barragán that I think about most when I think of the D.F. The famous Mexican architect and urban planner, highly influential in the 20th century, hid most of his creations from street view; experiencing any one of his interiors feels like unlocking a secret chamber of the city.
You can see what I mean when you arrange an appointment to visit Casa Barragán in Tacubaya, the house in which he lived and worked. The house is full of the surprising details and playful spatial effects that characterize his work.
You begin at the entrance, a narrow, dimly lit corridor of volcanic rock fitted with a small bench. It feels like a subterranean decompression room locking out the outside world. Another door opens onto a small vestibule. Upon stepping in, you notice it's flooded with light from a window on the upper part of the wall. The source can't be seen from the ground floor, but it bounces off a gold-leaf canvas by Mathias Goeritz and down a set of stairs before hitting a pink wall. The effect is startlingly warm and heavenly. Welcome home.
Other tricks of the eye: a narrow doorway that gives way to a soaring double-height living room; a narrow, Corbusier-inspired staircase that leads to an improbably short second floor (just an illusion). Floor-to-ceiling windows in a yellow room enclose a garden, its wild landscaping contrasting with the order and restraint of the building's interiors. The focal point is a pirul, a Peruvian peppertree, an emblem of nature and an organic gesture from which the minimalist house emerged — pretty powerful stuff.
The impression of spaciousness, the interplay of light and shadow, the nearly monastic bedroom, the collection of books, the modernist furniture, the radical fuschia rooftop terrace, and architectural tricks of the mind's eye illustrate a command of color and natural light, thoughtful construction, and great attention to even the tiniest details. The sensuousness and vibrancy that we've come to associate with the Mexican aesthetic is all there, a precise artistic expression that leaves the visitor happy in the purest sense.