Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo House-Studio Museum: functionalist architecture

Learn more about the construction of this property, commissioned by Rivera to architect Juan O'Gorman.

By Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo

The architecture of Juan O'Gorman

The "Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo" (Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo House-Studio Museum) comprises 3 house-studios, a photographic laboratory, and a garage. The first house was built by Juan O'Gorman between 1929 and 1931, and his work was a watershed moment in 20th century Mexican architecture. These homes exemplify the functionalism of the architect Le Corbusier, embodying the principle of "minimum expense for minimum effort," which sums up his now classic work.

Large window and external staircase of the Cecil O'Gorman House (1929-1930) by Autor no identificadoMuseo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo

The buildings incorporate functionalist elements which, in several cases, have been adapted to the Mexican landscape. Examples of this are the pilotis (slender columns that support the first-floor structure) and the use of concrete, baked clay panels, electrical installations, exposed drainage, open floors in the style of vestibules, and a spiral staircase—the central component which stands out from everything else.

Unidentified people outside the functionalist houses belonging to Diego and Frida in Altavista by Autor no identificadoMuseo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo

A constant element in this space is the organic cactus perimeter fence, which visually integrates it as a whole, from inside and out. It is a fundamental aspect that demonstrates the importance O'Gorman gave to landscape architecture.

Facade of Diego Rivera's House-Studio as seen from the Cecil O'Gorman House. (ca. 1931) by Autor no identificadoMuseo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo

In line with his political and social views, as well as his functionalist aesthetics, Diego Rivera commissioned him to build his house and studio, which was completed in 1932. He also planned to build a small photographic workshop.

Facade of Diego Rivera's House-Studio (31 de julio de 1932) by Guillermo KahloMuseo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo

In keeping with the style chosen for construction of the first house-studio, the first floors are completely open and the others are supported by pilotis. The property includes access from the streets Diego Rivera (then Palma) and Altavista, as well as the cactus fence that marks out the plot.

View of the main facade of Diego Rivera's House-Studio (1931) by Autor no identificadoMuseo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo

Le Corbusier's influence can be seen in the building that houses the studio, given its similarity to the house-studio belonging to the painter Amedeé Ozenfant, which was built in Paris in 1922. Both structures boast a saw-tooth roof and an external spiral staircase with concrete handrails. Inside, the work space or painter's studio is the highlight, because of its dimensions and double height.

Interior of Frida Kahlo's House-Studio (1930) by Autor no identificadoMuseo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo

The house that was lived in, known today as "Casa Frida," was the part designed to be used as a home, with a bathroom, kitchen, dining room, and bedroom, and a studio on the second floor for Frida Kahlo. The proportions of the spaces are smaller in scale, since functionalism advocated building very small homes.

On the roofs of both buildings are terraces that can be used as viewpoints, and the two spaces are connected with a bridge. From there, the area of San Ángel can be made out, with its colonial and neocolonial buildings that clashed completely with these two newer houses, signaling a modernization in construction.

Diego and Frida walking in front of the cactus fence at their house-studio in San Ángel (1934) by Autor no identificadoMuseo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo

Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo returned from their stay in the USA in 1934 and only lived in the houses as a couple for a short time, because Frida left Diego and moved to the "Casa Azul" (Blue House) in Coyoacán, where she had spent her childhood and youth. Even when they were subsequently reconciled, they kept separate homes and did not live together again.

Diego Rivera's wake, held at his studio in San Ángel (noviembre de 1957) by Autor no identificadoMuseo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo

This is where Diego died in 1957, and his vigil was held in his studio before his body was transported to the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) for his funeral.

The painter's studio (1995) by Guillermo ZamoraMuseo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo

Recent history

In 1986, the building was handed over to the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Institute of Fine Arts) and the Diego Rivera House-Studio Museum was opened in the painter's studio. "Casa Frida," meanwhile, was handed over to the National Centre of Research, Documentation, and Information on Visual Arts (CENIDIAP).

Frida Kahlo's House-Studio (1° de agosto de 1932) by Guillermo KahloMuseo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo

The site had changed quite a lot over time, and in 1997, the decision was made to restore it to its original 1932 state, incorporating the "Casa Frida" into the museum and changing the name to the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo House-Studio Museum.

The Cecil O'Gorman House (1928-1929) by Autor no identificadoMuseo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo

A second stage of transformation occurred in 2012, when the neighboring property—the 1929 O'Gorman house—was acquired.

This was annexed to the museum site after an exhaustive restoration project, during which original elements of the house were recovered. These included the outline or sinopia of the mural "Between Philosophy and Science There Is a Significant Difference," painted by Juan O'Gorman himself in what was the dining room, as well as the reconstruction of the spiral staircase.

Diego Rivera's House-Studio (31 de julio de 1932) by Guillermo KahloMuseo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo

Juan O'Gorman's functionalist house-studio project was therefore restored to its original integral state, allowing visitors to see the symbolic space that brought 3 historic Mexican figures together.

Diego Rivera on the mezzanine of his studio with unidentified people by Autor no identificadoMuseo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo

Diego Rivera’s Studio

Diego Rivera’s presence in this space offers a glimpse of the passion he felt for painting and collecting things. Rivera made this space his home. Surrounded by "cartonería popular" or Mexican papier-mâché sculptures that sit harmoniously alongside his canvases, papers, pigments, drawing table, and brushes, it offers visitors an insight into this important artist's private space.

Rivera's "Judases" (Mexican papier-mâché dolls), popular toys, and collection of pre-Hispanic objects looked on, as his endless hours spent working added to the myths and controversy surrounding his prolific artistic production. In his studio, he was accompanied by the muses who inspired his many portraits, while he also worked on his murals. His love of art can be felt in his work and in his environment. He treasured, drew, wrote, and painted life itself, and his everyday perspective extols Mexican values.

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