For an architect who prides himself on the rigour of his buildings, a wall covered in gold leaf might seem out of place. But when Alberto Campo Baeza – who is based in Madrid and makes serene structures in glass and concrete – was asked to design his first building in Mexico, he saw it as an opportunity to express not just his own style but to pay tribute to another architect who influenced him: Luis Barragán.
A Mexican who died in 1988, Barragán is widely regarded as one of the great architects of the 20th century. A modernist who, unusually for a big name, focused on residential projects, he is known for houses where unadorned exteriors belie the brightness within. At his Casa Gilardi in Mexico City, a yellow corridor leads to a swimming pool surrounded by high blue walls, with a red pillar plunging into the water. At the top of the stairs in his own house, now a Unesco World Heritage site, the rough stone stairway leads to a gold panel on the wall. He wanted to create buildings full of surprises, where the contrast between simplicity and lavishness heightens both. After all, as he once put it, “Where do you find more eroticism than in the cloister of a convent?”
Campo Baeza’s Domus Aurea (Latin for “golden house”) in Monterrey, built in conjunction with a Mexican firm, GLR Arquitectos, carries a similar hint of luxurious monasticism. Behind its white façade, a small courtyard leads to the house itself, containing two double-height spaces. For the most part an exercise in studied plainness, the interior gets a warm glow from a wall of gold leaf, illuminated by a slant of light shining through a clerestory window. In keeping with its outward modesty, the biggest indulgence is hidden on the roof: a swimming pool with a view of the mountains.