Beyond Buildings


The Legacy of Ricardo Legoretta

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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.

Goeritz Fountain

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.


Comments (3 Total)

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 6:38 AM Friday, January 13, 2012

    He was a daring architect, not afraid to break convention. Sure he was inspired by LB, but what great artist did not receive inspiration from their predecessors? I got to tour his studio in Mexico City while studying architecture at UNAM - way cool. I also stayed at one his hotels in Cancun - very soothing and relaxing atmosphere. His library in San Antonio stands out in stark contrast to an otherwise boring collage of earth toned buildings. I say LB would be proud of the continuation of his legacy through Legoretta. Hopefully some of his mentees will continue the tradition.

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  • Posted by: AMartinezAIA | Time: 6:53 PM Wednesday, January 11, 2012

    I would agree, I've stayed in several of his hotels in Mexico & they are all fasinating & fun, also have seen the wonderful Casa Bows here in Sonoma where I practiceTruly one of the timeless greats in Architecture

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  • Posted by: bkesner | Time: 6:17 PM Wednesday, January 11, 2012

    With all due respect, I don't think this article illustrates or respects the architect as I knew him and his projects. Admittedly he was a charmer, but the timing of his early work in this country was an important relief and a reminder to use simple terms to create beauty in the private and public spaces.

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About the Blogger

Aaron Betsky

thumbnail image Aaron Betsky is the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and in 2008 he was director of the 11th Venice International Architecture Biennale. Trained as an architect at Yale, he has published more than a dozen books on art, architecture, and design and teaches and lectures about design around the world. Aaron worked for Frank O. Gehry and Associates and Hodgetts & Fung Design Associates as a designer, taught for many years at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and between 1995 and 2001 was curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From 2001 to 2006 he was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.