and architect who delivered a small but impactful
series of projects overlapping with Legorreta’s early
and middle career. Barragán himself used colour on
a very substantial level, and Legorreta’s adoption and
evolution of the style is powerful.
Yet architecturally speaking, the two architects
probably have more differences than commonalities.
Barragán built with highly studied sequencing, spatial
studies, religious references and proportions for
relatively small constructions – predominantly homes
and religious structures. He adopted Ferdinand Bac’s
(1859-1952) view of architecture as a space for serenity.
Yet his construction techniques were little different to
those of contemporary homes built by developers and
contractors as much as by architects.
By comparison, Legorreta’s work is more vast in scale
(not only based on clients’ needs, but also in ambition).
The forms and structure of the buildings are one and
the same, and are expressed in massivity. Indeed, they
have rather more in common with the brutalism
of London or Paris than with typical residential
construction or the work of Barragán.
In many ways, one can see the mastery of mass
and volume in Legorreta’s work shared with his
contemporary, the prolific Teodoro González de
León (1926-2016), almost unknown outside of Latin
America. González de León, who worked with Le
Corbusier from 1948-9, has built buildings in almost
every borough (delegación) of Mexico due to his
relationship with one of Mexico’s largest banks,
rolling out their national branches, in addition to a
huge catalogue of landmark buildings. González de
‘This use of colour is not, however, about decoration.
It is a way of drawing the eye to the altar, to the volume,
and upwards to God. The broader experience of the space
is less driven by light or colour as the lack of it’
León’s work uses structural masses and beams, and the
relationships and junctions of massive elements. This
expresses lightness and volume in spite of his preference
for heavy hammered concrete. What differentiates him
from Legorreta is the monochrome palette he adopts.
Comparing the two is powerful. Both express a
tradition of Mexican architecture in which architecture
is expressed not in surfaces and planes, but in masses
and bodies. In my own neighbourhood of San Angel,
dating back to 1614, the churches and convents stand
within and behind massive walls. The steps and folds
in the walls create a sense of weight and history. Within
this village are numerous modern buildings in the
Mexican tradition, equally expressed in mass, yet with
a lightness. This depth of history ties in directly with
the work of these two masters.
The masses of Legorreta sit against each other and
express the flow of daylight over them, forms are
revealed by their orientation. Light reflected from one
surface echos off the next. Where colour is dominant,
the light is filtered and soft.
Legorreta’s use of colour is, in fact, an overlay on the
native architecture of Mexico, a tool used, much as
lighting designers use light, to both emphasise and
deemphasise the relationship of masses, light, air and
nature. The colours used are very consciously geared
to the desired experience of the space, as much as to
the aesthetics. Legorreta’s Catedral Metropolitana de
la Inmaculada Concepción de María de Managua in
the Nicaraguan capital is almost monochrome in its
use of concrete. Its massive grid of cupolas mimics the
Pantheon, becoming a texture rather than a form. They
are relieved by four bright yellow columns, which serve
to draw the eye upwards, where the surface between
the cupolas is also bright Legorreta yellow. This use
of colour is not, however, simply about decoration.It is
a way of attracting the eye to the altar, to the volume,
and upwards to God. The broader experience of the
space is less driven by light or colour as by the absence
of them. Managua has a hot and humid climate,
not well disposed to quiet contemplation. Legorreta’s
Managua cathedral exterior: Legorreta’s use of concrete to form
apertures, slots and grooves permitting daylight to pass through
relates to Louis Kahn’s use of daylight at the Kimbell Art Museum ▼