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Ricardo Legorreta (1931-2011)

Louise Noelle Gras writes an obituary to her great friend and colleague, the Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta 1931-2011

With the death of Ricardo Legorreta on 30 December 2011, contemporary architecture lost one of its leading lights. He was a Mexican proud of his heritage yet enthusiastic to embrace international commissions and the technology of the future.

Born in Mexico City on 7 May 1931, Legorreta studied architecture at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). He started his professional life working with José Villagrán García − a pioneer of Mexican Modern architecture − and was his partner 1955‑60. Initially he flirted with industrial architecture, where he felt at ease solving the requirements of manufacturing processes. He then turned his attention to private houses, the interiors of which he considered an integral part of the process, where he brought his experience in the design of furniture and accessories to bear. His spaces are imbued with warm textures and colours, with natural materials like terracotta, wood and textiles, and with refined details displaying indigenous craftsmanship; all delicately balanced between austerity and generosity.

The main characteristics of his style result from the gifted way he assembled wall planes, using light sparingly and appropriately. The exterior result is of marked and powerful vibrant volumes, with a horizontal tendency that protects generous internal spaces: kind and welcoming, yet belonging very much to the locale. Among his many hotel projects, Legorreta’s Hotel Camino Real in Mexico City (1968) is a masterpiece, it combines an intimate nature with the complex corporate needs of the hotel industry.

Over the last two decades works relating to culture and education were at the forefront of his output. Libraries included the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León (1994), in Monterrey and the Centro Nacional de las Artes in Mexico (1994), as well as the Central Library, in San Antonio, Texas (1995). For his higher education institutions, the designs incorporated state-of-the-art means of transmitting knowledge without, however, neglecting the importance of easy student interaction. Examples include the Graduate Business School in Monterrey (2001) and the campus ‘Santa Fe’ in Mexico City (2009), where he also built the facilities of the Graduate Building for the Economic Faculty at the UNAM (2010).

In the Middle East he designed for the Qatar University at Doha, the Texas A&M Engineering College (2007) and the Carnegie Mellon College of Business and Computer Science (2009) as well as student housing and the campus centre at the American University in Cairo (2009). In the UK Legorreta is perhaps best-known for the museum for fashion designer Zandra Rhodes (2001) in Bermondsey, London, where he adapted a former warehouse building with his trademark flamboyant colours.

Legorreta’s work stemmed from an in-depth understanding of the values of architecture and the mastery of technique. He was inspired by both Luis Barragán’s proposals and the ideas of Louis Kahn. He founded Legorreta Arquitectos with Noé Castro and Carlos Vargas 1963, and this became Legorreta + Legorreta in 2000. The practice continues to be run by his son Victor.

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