The Legacy of Ricardo Legoretta
Ricardo Legoretta, who passed away last week, designed at
least one great building, for which he deserves to be remembered: the Camino
Real Hotel in Mexico City. It is a
magnificent structure, as are several other hotels and houses he planned,
including the expansive Casa Bowes in Sonoma, Calif.
His legacy is not all great. Many of his later designs, especially the office buildings that dot
Mexico City and most of the civic buildings he designed in this country, are to
those of Luis Barragn, his greatest source of inspiration, what Charles Gwathmey’s
work is to Le Corbusier's: a faint echo of greatness.
To arrive at the Camino Real is one of the most theatrical
experiences you can have without going to a theater–or Disneyland. You come off the street to swerve around a
circular pool of water, created by the artist Mathias Goeritz, which periodically
corkscrews down to the bottom of its rocky basin, creating a sound so
thunderous it drowns out the noise of the city around you. A pink screen and a yellow all turn the
splashes of color you have driven or walked past into abstract pictures.
You then enter into a sequence of spaces that range from
tall, long, and narrow, to the broad, low, corkscrewing around you and dotted
with more art work. Everywhere colors
surround you, and they are not what you would expect in a hotel: fuschia, royal
blue, and purple. Wood steps, floors, and
screens create a texture in this three-dimensional composition.
Unlike the case with many other hotels, the drama does
not stop after you hand over your credit card. The whole hotel is a sequence of those spaces
with elongated or squashed proportions. All the rooms turn their back on Mexico City to open onto
courtyards. Some of those outdoor rooms
are what you would expect--expanses complete with swimming pools and
restaurants--but another one, which I had the pleasure of facing once, consists
of a planted wall quite close to the rooms, making you feel as though you are lost in
the jungle. The rooms themselves have
oversized, abstracted wood furniture and the same dramatic proportions.
The Casa Bowes, the other Legoretta-designed structure I was
able to enjoy at some leisure, is all tall, light-filled spaces that command
the views to the landscape and provide ample wall-space for the often very
large works of modern and contemporary art the Bowes collected. There is a sense of amplitude about everything in this house, as well as a sensuality highlighted, in my favorite
touch, by a grid of paving stones interspersed with mint.
Legoretta himself was the very picture of the architect as
charmer. Tall and handsome, he was
always gracious and generous. All the
women wanted to marry him, all the men wanted to be like him, and few could resist him if he was pitching for a commission. He might not have been the world’s greatest
architect, but he left a legacy of a several wonderful buildings and a sense of
architecture as a discipline that could be filled with drama, grandeur, and elegance.