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Project timeline

1953 – 1960

Type

Religious

Location Change this

Tlalpan
Mexico

Also known as Change this

Chapel of the Capuchinas

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Article last edited by Maria Thuroczy on
June 18th, 2013

Capilla de las Capuchinas Change this

Tlalpan, Mexico
by Luis Barragán Change this
1 of 10

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"...the words beauty, inspiration, enchantment, magic, sorcery, charm and also serenity, silence, intimacy and amazement have disappeared at an alarming rate in publications devoted to architecture. All of them have found a loving welcome in my soul, and even if I am far from claiming to have made them complete justice in my work, they have never ceased to be my beacon. "

Luis Barragan, acceptance speech for the Pritzker Prize

Deeply religious, the master filled his works with peacefulness and serenity, using a clearly Mexican formal vocabulary, the expressive tectonic nature of the materials, the sublime use of light and an elaborated yet simple treatment of space. However, the production of Barragán is not very prolific, mainly because for a good period of his life the architect was very selective in accepting his commissions. However in 1953, he gladly accepted the project for the expansion of the cloister and the chapel of the Capuchin sisters.

"We wanted Barragán to do the project, but we had no money, so we went to his office and talked to him." tells us the sister who is guiding us. "He not only willingly agreed to do the project, but also to finance part of its construction."

To carry out the work, which lasted 7 years to complete, the architect dedicated much enthusiasm and passion to define the many details that compose the building.

"We did not know what he was doing, but we trusted him completely, until one spring morning in April 24, 1960 the chapel was opened. To us, it looked amazing, beautiful, austere, almost without images, ahead of the Second Vatican Council " recalls the sister.

Upon entering, there is a small semi sunken courtyard, with white walls, in one of which a monumental cross is embedded. As a counterpart, a serene pool, in whose waters white flowers float, gives human scale to the space. To the right, a yellow frame lattice accompanies a stairway leading to a secondary chapel. The simple but powerful detail and color of the yellow grid reflecting on the black-stone pond is simply overwhelming.

At the other end of the pool is the entrance to the chapel, it's accessable after a short climb up stone steps. A long single wooden bench seems to float perpendicularly to the wall, but is actually held by invisible metal brackets.

Once in the room, the nun opened the doors (one of which, curiously, revolves around 30 cm from its end) to let us note one detail: the use of a pink glass, rare at the time, that illuminates the environment with a special tone of light. On one side are the private areas of the convent, arranged on a long plot. Towards the other side, we entered the chapel.

Once in the room, the nun opened the doors (one of which, curiously, revolves around 30 cm from its end) to let us note one detail: the use of a pink glass, rare at the time, that illuminates the environment with a special tone of light. On one side are the private areas of the convent, arranged on a long plot. Towards the other side, we entered the chapel.

Just the color of the wall causes the light to produce shades that suggest feelings of peacefulness and serenity.

To the side, a freestanding cross receives lateral illumination. The effect is dramatic, due to a triangular wedge that is embedded in space.

"Tadao Ando was here" he says the sister proudly "and he was amazed by this effect of the light." Tadao Ando, Frank Gehry and Rem Koolhaas among other famous architects have been fascinated and influenced by the mastery of Barragán’s works.

To the right, separated by a white wooden lattice-shaped grid, is a side chapel that is often used by families of the nuns.

From above, a hidden slit bathes the ambient with generous, warm light, while discovering the enormous height of the walls, a triple height that gives monumentality to the chapel.

Exquisite details featured in the small corridor adjacent to the chapel, such as a window whose yellow light is drawn on the wooden wall, the confessionary, furniture and doors, demonstrate the thoroughness that the Mexican master put in this work.

The tour ends back in the small courtyard, in the hallway next to the pool, separated by the yellow lattice and with the bench that seems to be levitating.

Religion and Myth

How to understand art and the glory of history without religious spirituality and without the mythical background that leads to the very roots of the artistic phenomenon? Without any of those we would not have the Egyptian and our own Mexican pyramids, there would be no Gothic cathedrals or Greek temples or the amazement that the Renaissance and the Baroque left, not the ritual dances of the so-called primitive peoples and the inexhaustible treasure of popular artistic sensitivity of all nations on earth.

Luis Barragán

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