Behind a drab concrete wall, down a back street in the working-class neighborhood of Tacubaya, sits a jewel of Mexican architecture.
Architect Luis Barragan built his home here in 1948 to serve as a peaceful refuge in the hectic capital city. Now, more than 10,000 people come each year to tour the home and to soak in the meditative ambience that Barragan created.
UNESCO added the home to its list of World Heritage Sites this month in recognition of the worldwide influence of Barragan's work.
Barragan's home is one of a dozen or so 20th century sites on the list of UNESCO, short for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It was the only Latin American site added by UNESCO at its July conference in Suzhou, China, said Francisco Morales, director of World Heritage Sites for the Mexican government.
"He is an important architect, perhaps the most important one we have here in Mexico, because he was able to produce a cultural and architectural synthesis where he unites the oldest traditions of Mexico, meaning pre-Colombian, with colonial heritage and . . . modern architecture," said Juan Palomar, an architect and co-author of a book on Barragan.
Barragan, who was born in Guadalajara in 1902, studied engineering at university and never formally trained as an architect. He was an avid reader, and the books lining the shelves in Barragan's living room reveal his interest in design and art from around the world, particularly the Middle East and Japan.
"The house's facade has no color, it is very simple," said Catalina Corcuera, director of the Luis Barragan House. "Barragan wanted the house to be full of surprises so that when you opened the door you would, little by little, see a world full of peace and tranquillity and the harmony he was always searching for."
His desire for peace and tranquillity was rooted in Barragan's Catholicism and his admiration for the meditative settings that he found in Mexican churches and convents.
Numerous architects, including Louis Kahn and Tadeo Ando, have cited Barragan's minimalist style as a great influence on their work. Fashion designer Calvin Klein had Barragan design a home that was never built.
Barragan, who never built anything outside Mexico, became well-known after the Museum of Modern Art in New York held a retrospective of his work in 1976.
In 1980, Barragan was awarded the Pritzker Prize, the highest honor in architecture.
"It is alarming that publications devoted to architecture have banished from their pages the words beauty, inspiration, magic, spellbound, enchantment, as well as the concepts of serenity, silence, intimacy and amazement," Barragan said when he accepted the prize. "All these have nestled in my soul, and though I am fully aware that I have not done them complete justice in my work, they have never ceased to be my guiding lights."
Once past the concrete facade and inside his two-story brick home, Barragan's words begin to sink in. The spacious rooms have high, wood-beamed ceilings, stairs with no handrails, floors of black volcanic rock, large windows and the occasional brightly painted wall. Abstract paintings as well as sculptures and paintings of horses are scattered throughout the house. A large metallic ball reflects passersby as they go up the stairs to Barragan's bedroom. The dominant image in the simple room is a large figure of Jesus, which hangs over his small bed.
The garden is filled with trees and vines that spill over onto the pink and orange roof terrace. At the side of the house is a secluded patio with a fountain, a small pool and large, empty terra-cotta pots.
The 5,200-square-foot, four-bedroom house was restored after Barragan's death in 1988 and opened to the public in 1994. The trust, which owns the home, spends $26,000 a year to maintain the structure, whose furnishings and decor are arranged just as the architect left them.
UNESCO's recognition of Barragan's house will not only urge restoration of the few remaining houses, apartments and public monuments that he designed, but it also will serve as a launching point for preserving modern architecture in Mexico in general, Morales said.
"This will allow us to figure out what we need to defend in the future, the day-to-day architecture, a lot of which is high quality but gets destroyed for lack of knowledge," Morales said.