Mexico City Modernism - Day 3 – August 6, 2010 – Along the Paseo de la Reforma

| Aug 06, 2010

Amanda Delorey

Carlos Obregón Santacilla, Secretaria de Salud (1925)

We begin our third day by visiting the Carlos Obregón Santacilla’s Secretaria de Salud (1925), the Ministry of Health, an early example of Mexican modernist architecture that borrows from Modern Classicism and Art Deco forms. The reforms to public healthcare after the Revolution, which brought better services to all citizens including the poor and indigenous populations, are expressed in the building: the facade and interior stained glass windows (windows designed by Diego Rivera) reveal the new inclusivity of national health care and fuse modernist architecture with Mexican imagery.

The building is organized into sections around a large courtyard, a large rounded v-shaped building runs along the site’s border, and one rectangular building sits at the open end of the larger structure. One remarkable aspect of the Secretaria de Salud is the brilliant copper-clad bridges running along the arms of the largest building, as is the abundant use of native volcanic rock in the pavilions and lush gardens in the centre courtyard.

Carlos Obregón Santacilla, Secretaria de Salud (1925)

Interior courtyard, Secretaria de Salud (1925)

Open air corridors, Secretaria de Salud (1925)

Rivera painted the ceiling frescos in the building’s stately conference room, which O’Rourke points out, were disliked by Obregón Santacilla who felt they were badly proportioned.

Diego Rivera's murals in the boardroom at the Secretaria de Salud

Dog park in Hipódromo

Visiting the Hipódromo neighbourhood, designed by José Luis Cuevas in 1925-27, allowed us to see many of Mexico City’s early modernist homes, including many examples of the city’s Art Deco architecture, as well as some more contemporary buildings. Just down the street from an interesting pink Art Deco apartment building, we approach one of Luis Barragán’s earliest International Style homes, which is actually a pair of white townhouses though this is not readily visible from the street. A contemporary apartment building by Taller 13 Arquitectos employs various sizes of rectangular glass panes, clear and lime green, which mirrors the scattered foliage in front.

Edificio Rosa (1935)

Luis Barragán, Duplex (1936)

Taller 13 Arquitectos, Apartment Building (2002-06)

We view two more Hipódromo apartment buildings that borrow heavily from Art Deco buildings. We are able to enter Francisco J. Serrano’s Edificio Basurto (1942-45) but cannot take photographs of the amazing inner atrium lined with smooth white balconies, reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s vertical spirals to most but I also found it resembled Antonio Gaudí’s interior arches at Casa Milà (1912) in Barcelona.

Ernesto Ignacio Buenestro, Edificio San Martin (1931)

Francisco J. Serrano, Edificio Basurto (1942-45)

Interior, Antonio Gaudí, Casa Milà (1912)

Javier Sánchez, Amsterdam 309 (2006)

Javier Sánchez, Amsterdam 322 (1999)

Javier Sanchez’s Hotel Condesa DF (2005) offers an example of a renovation inside a historic building. The exterior, an apartment building from 1928, is very different from the contemporary interior. The all white triangular inner atrium employs panels that can be opened and closed to create difference appearances.

Javier Sánchez (with India Mahdavi), Hotel Condesa DF (2005)

Interior, Javier Sánchez (with India Mahdavi), Hotel Condesa DF (2005)

The Museo Nacional de la Antropología (1964), one of several museums in Chapultepec Park, displays artefacts from pre-conquest peoples yet also offers significant Mexican architecture. Pedro Ramírez Vázquez led an impressive team of architects and engineers to design this monolithic space. An umbrella-like fountain stands in the central courtyard and an important Rufino Tamayo’s Duality (1964) mural sits in the main entrance.

Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, Museo Nacional de la Antropología (1964)

Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, Museo Nacional de la Antropología (1964)

Rufino Tamayo’s Duality (1964)

Our final stop of the day is Casa Luis Barragán, an early move away from the International Style into a more personal style, where sadly (or perhaps happily, as my memories from walking though this house are quite vivid) we are unable to take photographs. The house focuses inward, away from the street, and each space opens up into a complex visual and spatial experience. The architect’s controlling nature is definitely felt as we move from room to room, small details like where light hits the wall and footstep notches in the railing-less stairs have been carefully measured and executed perfectly to enhance the ideal geometric proportions of each space. Windows extend beyond the exterior facade so that, from inside, the walls appear thick and heavy. The house is stunning and is a must-see building in Mexico City.

Luis Barragán, Casa Luis Barragán (1947)

Members of tour in garden/studio space across from Casa Barragán (Photo: Abigail Van Slyck)

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SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
for its operating support.
Society of Architectural Historians
1365 N. Astor Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610