The importance of compact walls

In the tradition of Mexican architecture, maybe more than in other places, the compact wall without or almost without openings takes on values that go beyond the specific compositional solution to suggest force and tragedy, silence and light, defining domestic spaces and outdoor enclosures.

Walls are the ‘tablet’ on which the great Mexican mural painters like David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera depicted human emotions like joy, suffering, the struggle for freedom. For Luís Barragán – whose meaning and figure have been reinterpreted by Legorreta, father and son – walls are a tool to shape the indoor-outdoor relationship.

That insertion in the landscape as an essential feature of architecture, which Legorreta grasps in the lesson of the master from Guadalajara, perhaps more than the vivid use of color on stucco, which at first glance might seem like the main legacy passed on.

Octavio Paz, the Mexican poet and essayist, Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990, wrote: “the Mexican seeks the silence of closed worlds.” While in Barragán the balanced dichotomy of outdoors and indoors measures the distance between two complementary worlds (the virgin force of nature and the expectation of encounter), in the houses of Legorreta the boundaries blur to bring the outdoor dimension into the house, and vice versa, in a volumetric game of thicknesses, color and material.

While the Hispanic tradition inserts water in courtyards and patios, not just as a swimming pool (a necessity for a dwelling of this level), in these two houses water becomes an indispensable part of the architecture.

Designed by Victor with the partners Miguel Almaraz, Adriana Ciklik, Carlos Vargas and Miguel Alatriste, the El Arrayán house in Mexican Bajio has a complex layout based on a central axis, in which a sequence of entrances and a patio lead to a large stepped terrace, concluding with the semicircular pool at the end, projected into the greenery.

The long path of the entrances divides – at the position of the patio, separated by glass from the interior – the public part of the house on the left from the private part on two levels to the right. The articulated volumes correspond to the two functional sectors in the design.

The public part extends the luminous living area into the outdoor space of the stone terrace, and in this case the compact wall becomes a large, asymmetrical, suspended white frame, which rests on a protruding partition placed almost at the center.

A large porticoed zone extends under the roof-volume. It concludes with a turret that contains the chimney, as a prelude to the patio with its reflecting pool and small garden, and the set-back part of the private house, developing to its left.

The precise white volumetric blocks pace the overall composition, while in the interiors designed by the studio of Uribe Krayer the wood used for the floors and part of the ceilings, including that of the portico, becomes the materic counterpoint of the pale facade stucco.

The house in Bajio Mexicano, part of an exclusive residential development, has a quadrangular plan broken into portions on two levels. Patios and courtyards are wedged to separate the domestic spaces facing southeast from the garage, the service spaces and the tennis court next to a geometric garden.

The house develops around the terrace that faces the swimming pool and the portico, separating the public zones on the left from the private areas on the opposite side. The different functions correspond to different materic and compositional treatments: stone and a sloping roof for the daytime area open to the guests, ochre plaster and geometric volumes for the bedroom zone organized on two levels.

From the private area, in any case, a large portico develops, following the same materic-chromatic rules, forming a compact volume that presses towards the part of the house clad in stone, functioning as a connection between the parts and the conclusive element of the terrace that finds a covered space here, facing the pool.

The house is open towards the landscape on all sides; the ochre-yellow of the exterior, together with the violet tone of the bathrooms, evokes the lesson of Barragán, the rare mastery of the relationship with nature, the force of volumes and color.

Photos by Lourdes Legorreta/Courtesy Studio Legorreta – Text by Matteo Vercelloni