Palimpsest Barragán/

Organiser: Architectural Association School of Architecture

Event Detail



19 July, 2023


Architectural Association School of Architecture




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Palimpsest Barragan poses a once in a lifetime opportunity to engage eye to eye with an architectural masterpiece of 20th century modernism by the Mexican architect Luis Barragan. As a hidden and still unknown architectural jewel set amidst a paradisiac jungle on the Pacific coast, the ruins of the never completed building have sunk into oblivion, not unlike the ancient Mexican pyramids, and are currently in progressive decay. The workshop will not only ‘unearth’ the project and at last put it on the map of architectural discourse, but it might even have a larger impact by kickstarting a debate around the preservation of its ruins from disintegration.

As opposed to the ongoing aggressive commercial exploitation of wild locations of the country, we

focus on re-use of the ruins and will explore new sustainable ways that will enable a second life for the remains. We reflect on Barragan´s dialogue with landscape reminding us of the important correlation of architecture and nature.

A number of ancient manuscripts have survived only as palimpsests, as a hidden layer below new texts on a same parchment sheet. Similarly to historical palimpsests, the current state of Barragan’s Colima jungle house can be read as the first layers of a transformative history that has more layers yet to come.

The workshop claims that any restoration or refurbishment of a building’s ruins with the attempt to conserve its originality and authenticity can only fail. It rather masquerades the ruins as a grotesque image of what they perhaps never had been. Instead, a building might survive time more gracefully by having its structure transformed into a layer of a whole new identity, by dissolving its ruins into a new building, by becoming part of an ‘architectural palimpsest’.

In the students’ hypothetical design proposals the existing ruins of Barragan’s jungle house get absorbed and dissolved into a new project. If such a new proposal was ever to be built it would become impossible to distinguish between new and old. Like an ancient palimpsest parchment that requires modern technology such as X-Ray or ultraviolet light to decipher the various layers of hand writing, only specific technologies like material sampling and chemical analysis might give a hint as to where the original ruins would end and the new extensions begin. The proposed architectural palimpsests stand confidently in the present with its roots in the DNA of Barragan’s original work. The juxtaposition of the existing ruins with new additions or subtractions can become a process without defined end point, an endless drawing of layers, all contributing to the complexity of the palimpsest.


The summer school will take place on the actual site of the house’s ruins in the jungle of Colima Beach with the Pacific Ocean in walking distance. The students will be based on site throughout the 10 days of the workshop. We will set camp in the jungle overlooking a private beach. Accommodation at the beach in tents (or alternatively in hotels nearby).

During the first three days we will analyse the ruins of the Colima Beach house with students examining and surveying the overgrown remains. The students will form teams and work closely with each other. A series of events, round table discussions and visits to nearby ancient ruins and built examples of other modernist projects by Barragan’s contemporaries will accompany this analytical part of the workshop.

Over the following six days, and under the immediate impression of and in direct interaction with the ruins, the students will work on individual design proposals as a new palimpsest layer for the ruins. We will come together as a group for reviews, discussions and collective design sessions. Mexican and international experts and key figures of the architectural scene will visit us at the site and input on the students’ work as guest critics.

On the final day we will set up an exhibition of the students’ works in the ruins, followed by a goodbye party.

There will be plenty of time to enjoy the beach, to swim in the ocean and to get inspired by the unique location set in the jungle.

After the workshop all student works will be digitally scanned and documented.

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