The One Thing You Can't Miss: Mexico City
This spring, we tagged along with the folks at Richer Poorer on a whirlwind trip to Mexico City. Guided by our friends at El Camino Travel, we spent our days and nights eating tacos and sipping mezcals, exploring design and architecture, and discovering a culture that's at once deeply traditional and vibrantly forward-thinking. Oh, and eating more tacos.
This is the first of three stories from that adventure.
Partly thanks to the New York Times naming it the number one place to go in 2016, Mexico City more than deserves all the attention it’s getting right now. Think of it this way – it’s essentially the Rome of North America, with amazing food, beautiful people, and ancient ruins to boot. People have lived and walked and created on this stretch of land – an ancient, dried-up lake bed with an elevation of more than 7,000 feet above sea level – for millennia. International tourism is ramping up these days, to be sure, but humans in general have been drawn here for thousands of years. So like Rome, it's no wonder that it's a mecca for design, art, culture, and food.
It made perfect sense that we head to this city of nine million people (21 million in the greater Mexico City area) with Richer Poorer to celebrate their ethos of the Honest Hustle, meeting Mexico City's brightest creatives and entrepreneurs to learn about their work and how they’re turning their pipe dreams into realities. The people I met during this trip were endlessly inspiring, but one of the most inspiring of all of them was a man who I didn’t actually meet – the late architect Luis Barragán, whose many works are peppered throughout all of Mexico and Mexico City in particular. My favorite? Casa Prieto Lopez, also known as Casa Pedregal.
"I think that the ideal space must contain elements of magic, serenity, sorcery and mystery.”
- Luis Barragán
Despite having passed away almost 30 years ago, Barragán is still one of the foremost names in Mexican design. He was born in Mexico but traveled widely, which meant that he was influenced by European modernism, traditional Mexican design, and the confluence of both indoor and outdoor spaces – a combination that results in some of the most serene and beautiful buildings I’ve ever been in. It’s hard to put into words, but Barragán’s designs feel like walking into an alternate universe, one without any unanswered emails, looming deadlines, or any general nagging, negative feelings. It all melts away, and you’re just there, right where you are.
All of Barragán’s designs have that similar feel to them – go to the San Cristobal Stables (often used for high fashion photo shoots), Casa Gilardi (which he built in Mexico City around a jacaranda tree, and whose vibrant yellow hallway and red- and blue-walled pool is said to have inspired James Turrell, who then inspired Drake’s “Hotline Bling”), or Barragán’s home and studio (named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004) and you won’t regret having made the visit. But for me, Casa Prieto was the winner.
The house was built in southern corner of Mexico City, in a neighborhood called El Pedregal, which means “rocky place.” The entire area is covered in petrified lava, remnants of an eruption of the Xitle volcano more than a thousand years ago, and Barragán used it as a site for an experiment in melding architecture and design with the surrounding stark, volcanic landscape and native plants.
Barragán had an almost otherworldly sense for how light, shadows, and color play together – at certain times of day, the lines of the shadows align perfectly with the lines of the house.
Casa Prieto stayed with the original owners up until a few years ago when it was bought by art collector, businessman, and longtime El Pedregal resident César Cervantes. He enlisted the help of his friend and architect Jorge Covarrubias to restore the house to its original state as Barragén designed and built it, removing any additions that had come throughout the years. This home is one of Barragán's best-known residential works, and from the second you step inside you can see why. Walking through the doors is like letting out a deep breath.
"I think that the ideal space must contain elements of magic, serenity, sorcery and mystery,” Barragán once said. Casa Prieto has all of this. The walls are painted in saturated Mexican colors – burnt oranges, deep pinks, and arid blues. Barragán used natural materials like wood and stone in his designs, and built much of Casa Pedregal into the lava rock that surrounds it – the main house, the cerulean-blue pool, the undulating gardens of rock and small terraces for hammocks and chairs. Large, high-ceilinged rooms narrow into small doorways, and light pours in through hidden fixtures (a favorite touch of Barragán’s) and soaring windows. Barragán had an almost otherworldly sense for how light, shadows, and color play together – at certain times of day, the lines of the shadows align perfectly with the lines of the house. It's unequivocally the most beautiful home I've ever been in – not just aesthetically, but in the sense of peace if gives you.
If it’s so beautiful, you might be wondering, then why are there no photos? Long story short – it costs an incredible amount of money to even take cameras inside many of Barrágan's houses, much less publish the photos as a company. So I have two options for you: one, scour the Internet. There are many already-existing photos of Casa Prieto out there. Or two, buy a ticket to Mexico City and go see Casa Prieto in person. You need to feel what it feels like to let out that deep breath. [H]
What Else to Do and See in Mexico City
Take a street food tour with Club Tengo Hambre.
Mexico City is famous for its street food culture, and it’s no mystery why when you taste a taco al pastor for yourself. With Club Tengo Hambre, a local guide will lead you through the neverending maze of street food stalls to the best tacos and quesadillas of your life. Pro tip: pace yourself, and sip on a bottle of Coke as you go. It’ll help with digestion. We hope.
Pay a visit to the Museo Soumaya.
An architectural wonder in itself and home to more than 66,000 works of art from 30 different centuries, the Soumaya showcases work from pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican, modern Mexican artists, and European masters. Across the square, head into the Museo Jumex to see the exhibit for Carla Fernández, a Mexican designer who works with indigenous communities to incorporate their methods and textiles into high fashion for women.
Cool off in the pool at Hotel Carlota.
A recent addition to the Colonia Cuauhtémoc neighborhood, this modern hotel is a perfect home base for your Mexico City adventures, complete with a partially glass-walled pool in the atrium and strong margaritas at the bar just feet away. Bonus – it's within walking distance of Roma and Condesa, two up-and-coming neighborhoods in Mexico City with restaurants and bars aplenty.