For hours, we had wandered through Barragán’s mind alone or accompanied only by those with intimate relationships with his spaces. Arriving at his House and Studio, we became part of a tour group.
The architect’s home was a constantly evolving work. Walls were repainted and rooms reconfigured to accommodate life’s shifting needs. Our guide mentioned all of this as she led us through a procession of spaces that felt like tripping through someone’s psyche.
In the study, we were told that in his childhood home there was a mezzanine he wasn’t allowed to visit. In his adult home, he created a mezzanine rendered inaccessible by a precarious staircase covered in books. The living room’s only window had curtains on the inside and outside so that Barragán could be invisible to guests while in the garden. And his bedroom had a door with shutters that allowed him to look out without anyone seeing in.
Outside of his bedroom, a statue of his favorite saint, Francis of Assisi, sits below a small, square, yellow-paned skylight. The guide instructed us to close all the doors that led out of that hallway. In the absence of other light, the statue hovered above its pedestal, radiating in perpetual ecstasy. St. Francis, known for renouncing the riches he was born into, is often associated with self-denial. At the threshold, to the room where we are our most intimate, this was a reminder to self.
Barragán’s obituary in the The New York Times starts, “Luis Barragán, an intensely private man…” His obsession with privacy is well-documented, it was the guide’s most-repeated mention. And it came up for the final time in his bedroom as she showed us those shutters and then pointed to a handmade screen propped up in view of his bed. On alternating folding panels was Iman, striking poses midair in her incomparable version of 80s glamour. It was here at the foot of his bed that someone else on the tour asked if Barragán had ever married. “No,” she said, as I instinctively turned to face Iman.