Luis Barragan’s Cuadra San Cristobal (or Egerstrom House) in Mexico City is one of the great pieces of post-war modern architecture. The Cuadra, built in 1968 for Folke Egerstrom, consists of a family house and an equestrian centre over an area of three hectares. I was recently made aware that the property is being marketed for €10m (£8.1m) through Christies Real Estate. (link to property details)
In late 2011 on a visit to Casa Barragan, the architects own house and studio, (link to Archdaily building study) we were given an email address and told it was possible to arrange a tour of the Cuadra through this contact. Access to the complex was amazing. First we passed the ‘Fuente de los Amantes’, which is located on the same gated street, then through the strong white perimeter wall, the entrance giving nothing away about the nature of the spaces within, then across the threshold into the first of the interior courtyards with a view past the white cubist volume of the house, the fountain gushing into the horse bathing pool, to the bright pink walls beyond. The interior of the house, still a private dwelling, is closed to the public, otherwise we were free explore the site. We were delighted to discover a working equestrian centre with fine-looking horses being led past the brightly coloured walls, mimicking the photos in books and magazines.
During our visit we had conversation with a lady which it transpired was the daughter-in-law of Barragan’s original client. We talked about the maintenance and upkeep, the cost of water to supply the signature fountain and a threat to the complex from two proposed residential towers on an adjacent building lot. The integrated design of building and landscape, which was so carefully thought through by Barragan, could be seriously harmed by the looming presence of the towers. The fight against the imposition of the towers is being led by the Joseph and Anni Albers Foundation who were trying to get others involved, including architects Zaha Hadid and Cesar Pelli who wrote positively about their visits in the guest book.
With the impending sale and the proposed towers the threat to the house, which to date has been fantastically well conserved by the Egerstrom family, is now two-fold. I am not a specialist on the regulatory framework of protecting historic buildings in Mexico however I visited an exhibition on the damage caused to anthropological sites in the country by over-zealous conservation and archaeology, and witnessed a staff strike at INAH, the government organisation tasked with their protection. It would be easy to imagine how it could be bought by an organisation who sees valuable open land within the city as a financial opportunity rather than an important part of Mexico’s heritage and also all to easy to envisage the bulldozers moving in before the authorities react. Whilst this does paint a bleak scenario, if it can happen in the highly regulated UK environment with the listed Greenside House on the Wentworth Estate, it could easily happen in less regulated Mexico. Hopefully the high price, including a premium owing to its architectural pedigree, will eliminate this as a financially viable option.
In order that future generations can continue to enjoy the Cuadra it is important that the purchaser is somebody who cares about its long-term future, is willing to invest in its conservation, understands its cultural importance and above all loves the buildings and their associated landscape.
All photographs are authors own.