Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Study House Museum, Mexico City, Mexico

The Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo House Study Museum is located in the south of Mexico City and is dedicated to preserving the memory of the muralist and his wife; as well as the study and analysis of his artistic generation.

On behalf of Diego Rivera, in 1931 Juan O’Gorman designed one of the first functionalist constructions in Latin America: a house for the painter and another for his wife Frida Kahlo, where each one would have his own studio. These are two blocks of smooth concrete that each house a house, one red with white (the painter) and another blue (for the artist), independent of each other and joined only by a small bridge at the top.

General aspects
The museum – located in the San Ángel neighborhood of the Álvaro Obregón delegation on an area of 380 square meters – is made up of three buildings: two houses-studios and a photographic laboratory; designed by Mexican architect and artist Juan O’Gorman. Construction began in 1931 and concluded the following year, but Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo inhabited it from 1934.

The reinforced concrete construction system – where the form derives from the utilitarian function, the principle that O’Gorman defended as the axis of the architecture – allows the electrical installations to be apparent; The concrete slabs of both houses are presented without the plaster finish and only the brick walls are flattened. Asbestos sheets with a blacksmith’s frame, an exterior helical concrete staircase that connects the various floors of the Painter’s Studio, among others, are the characteristics that underlie O’Gorman’s functionalist architectural theory: the minimum expense was used and effort for maximum utility.

The Painter’s Study takes place on the ground floor and two floors, the concrete tiles are lightened and apparent, the marquetry is made of structural steel, the sawtooth-shaped roof; Its finishes show great austerity and economy. Great attention was paid to the natural lighting required for such a study, solved with floor-to-ceiling windows. The use of the free plant is also appreciated, at the level of the accesses held in light piles. The introduction of these elements in the architecture of that time, constitute one of the most valuable contributions to the modern architecture of the twentieth century.

The property was created as a museum by presidential decree on April 1, 1981, published in the Official Gazette of the Federation on the 24th of the same month, incorporating the property, construction and existing objects in it into the public domain and its custody was assigned to the National Institute of Fine Arts (INBA).

On December 16, 1986, it opened its doors to the public as the Diego Rivera House Museum and Frida Kahlo-INBA, as part of the celebrations for the centenary of Diego Rivera’s birthday. Then his cultural vocation was defined in the tasks of preservation, conservation, research and exhibition of the life and work of Kahlo, Rivera and O’Gorman, as well as contemporary art.

The INBA, aware of the heritage and artistic value of the twin houses, restored them between July and December 1995, through its Directorate of Architecture, the Kahlo studio house and in the same period of the following year that of Rivera in order to recover its original appearance. The museum was reopened by President Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León on February 28, 1997 and the buildings were declared Artistic Patrimony of the Nation on March 25 of the following year.

The collection of the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo House Study Museum is the twin houses, today the most important existing example of the functionalist architecture that, developed by Le Corbusier, was assimilated and applied by O’Gorman in Mexico.

From 1934 Rivera occupied the Studio, where he painted most of his easel work, his watercolors, sketches for murals and some transportable murals and where he died on November 24, 1957 at 23:20 hours. The house was inherited by her daughter, Ruth Rivera Marín, who donated it to INBA.

Architect: Juan O’Gorman
His work was a watershed in modern architecture. The houses built by Juan O’Gorman for Diego and Frida Kahlo are an example of their functional architecture, in which the architect plays in an innovative way with double heights, volumes and materials that print a particular seal in the way of inhabiting the space; “The minimum expense and effort for maximum utility.”, Is the premise that synthesizes his classic work in the history of architecture. This new proposal highlights the simplicity of the forms and gives great purity to the construction. 3

The three house studio
At 24 years of age, and with his first income as a cartoonist, Juan O’Gorman bought two stepped tennis courts and in one of them he would explore between 1929 and 1931 the possibilities of the new architecture.

First he experimented with the construction of a house-studio located on the lowest ground. Although he said it was intended for his father Cecil Crawford O’Gorman, there are reasons to ensure that he really wanted to show it to Diego Rivera, husband of his teenage friend Frida Kahlo. At the end of it in 1931 he invited Diego, who was very pleasantly impressed. The young architect offered the neighboring court at cost if the painter commissioned the project and the construction of his studio. The teacher agreed, and what resulted were two studio houses, one for him and one for Frida.

O’Gorman knew the architectural proposals of the European avant-garde, in particular, that of the famous architect Le Corbusier. With these three constructions, he provided innovative solutions in the field of structures, as well as the use of glass and steel, concrete stairs and the visibility of the installations as an expressive element within the language of modernity. The Mexican popular culture integrated the use of clay in sight on some roofs and the color of the walls and fences of cacti, which resulted in a highly original nationalist cosmopolitanism.

Upon formalization on behalf of Diego Rivera, Juan O’Gorman immediately undertook the project in the first half of 1931. A year later he finished the two studio houses, while Diego and Frida were in Detroit. The houses were immediately photographed by Guillermo Kahlo, Frida’s father. It was not until 1934 when the couple moved to this place.

At Diego’s request, the project proposes two multi-storey houses. A small workshop and photographic archive also appear. The ground floor of the complex is almost completely free, following the idea of Le Corbusier, and works as a lobby and living area in both houses, whose upper part is suspended on pilotis, already present in the house of 1929. Also here the land is It borders with cactus fences.

Diego’s house study shows the influence of a famous work by Le Corbusier from 1922; the study house of the painter Amédée Ozenfant, in Paris, with a saw ceiling and an external spiral staircase with a concrete handrail. These elements are present in Diego’s study, which, however, is larger and more complex, as evidenced by the double height area on which an extension of the study is located.

Frida’s house does not follow specific models and the exterior staircase that leads to the roof represents a remarkable innovation, with the concrete steps in the corbel and a tubular handrail reduced to a minimum. All the stairs have, in both buildings, a special architectural relevance.

Also visible here are the tinacos, the plumbing pipes and the water supply, but the thick pipes of the garbage ducts, which descend into small metal pipes, are a novelty. Electrical installations appear again, as well as tubular handrails, even more abundant.

Diego Rivera’s study house

Ground floor and first floor
The ground floor of this house is almost entirely a free space, except for the small core of services. The exterior staircase is a much larger and more elaborate variant than the one in the Juan O’Gorman house of 1929, with high concrete railings, and its construction in two sections must have been very complex. The quality of its realization is remarkable, with precise control of the geometry and its finish. It is undoubtedly the dominant element of the facade, towards Palmas Street and also of the north facade, fully glazed.

The first section of the staircase leads to the small interior lobby on the first floor, behind a door, like all of them, with a steel frame and fiber cement panel. From this internal space starts a straight staircase with horizontal concrete plates. On the left you access a small room for the gallery of the works that Diego had for sale. The floor in all the interiors is again of pine stave inked with the pigment “congo”. The doors and windows retain the original bronze handles. In the rest of the floor there is a bedroom and a bathroom closed to the public. All the slabs have concrete ribs and blocks of pressed mud, as in the services of 1929. On this floor there could be a kitchenette to heat ready-made food, near one of the mouths of the duct for garbage.

Second floor
The second floor is reached both by the last section of the exterior and interior stairs and a hallway is found again, which in this case leads to the left, to the most important space of all: the painter’s studio.

Surprising for its large dimensions, whose double height is further increased by the sawtooth of the roof, also with ribs and mud blocks. The large window to the north moves over an oblique extension of the study; a turn that allowed O’Gorman to find the magnetic north, to minimize the entry of the Sun. The lower part of this window can be opened completely to climb fabrics with large racks.

The apparent electrical cables are very noticeable, with the lights hanging. The saw teeth, which are directed to the north and in a less exact way follow the orientation of the street, led the architect to dispose outside of some fiber cement parasols that shade each window. Some of these, at high altitude, are opened by mechanical mechanisms within the reach of a person. It is worth noting that in the solution of the parasols, O’Gorman went ahead by more than five years to Le Corbusier himself, who will make these a characteristic feature of his architecture.

The study space extends at a lower height, to one side, to accommodate a living room and preparation of pictorial materials on the other hand, to protect shelves part of a collection of folk art. This annex produces the double height of the ground floor. The study furniture (armchairs with cushions, equipment, wooden chairs of popular origin), denim curtains (in all the windows of the house) and the green painted wooden dresser are original, as well as the huge “judas” of cardboard that hang and rest on various parts.

In the rest of the second floor are the bedroom occupied by the painter and a bathroom open to the public, only with a shower, in which the furniture and accessories are all original, including a sink for washing brushes and utensils. From the lobby another section of the interior staircase starts, towards the third floor.

Mezzanine and roofs
The last level of the house has an open mezzanine towards the studio that allows you to better appreciate its space, the large window and the jagged roof. There is a built-in cabinet or plane for the protection of drawings and an armchair of the original furniture.

The next room was Diego’s office, with the desk and other elements of the time. The outer door of this space leads to a small roof (the cover of the annex of the study) that allows to see the complete set, including the house of 1929 and its land.

The wall of the study continues upwards until it ends with the saw teeth, which drain into a concrete channel connected to the metal tube that descends to the ground. A minimal metal staircase is seen here to climb the deck, similar to that of the house of 1929. The handrails of tubes painted in antioxidant red dominate the rest of this space, which extends to the bridge and the perimeter of the roof of Frida’s house. The tinacos of Diego’s house and the radio antenna on thin tubes are also perceived, larger than in the house of 1929. There is also an interesting view of the exterior staircase of Frida’s house, whose upper rest merges with the concrete rainwater collector.

The roof of Frida’s house is another important viewpoint, with the red tinaco as the only element present in it. Despite its difficult access, there are photographs of Frida posing on this roof and in the annex of Diego’s studio.

From here you can see the San Ángel Inn neighborhood, where neo-colonial constructions predominate that are all after Juan O’Gorman’s studio houses, since it was originally a place with orchards and few country houses.

Frida Kahlo’s studio house

Ground floor and first floor
As in Diego’s house, Frida’s ground floor is a mostly open space, supported by piles. Only a semicircular staircase and the services interrupt the free floor. From the street you can see the beginning of the stairs. It turns and ends in a straight line in front of the access door on the first floor.

In this one there is located, on the left, a small kitchen that could originally have a coal stove, then adapted to gas. In the rest are the dining room and the living room, illuminated to the east and south respectively: from the last one you can clearly see the section of the staircase that ascends to the second floor, as well as some vitro blocks that illuminate the hollow of the lower section. Doors and windows, accessories and electrical equipment, remain the same house and Diego are similar to those of the house of 1929.

Second floor
The last floor is destined, in its half to the east, for the study of the painter, who bears a great resemblance to the study of the house of 1929, since its three exterior faces are entirely glazed and the windows fold up like screens. The one to the north opens partially to access the rest of the stairs that go up to the roof.

There are photographs of Frida working in this studio posing next to a piece of furniture, and in another one, she appears sitting next to Diego with the wood-burning heater behind, located near the bathroom door. Both the heater and the bathroom itself are very similar to those of the house of 1929, with the piece of artificial granite that offers a hole to support the head. The sink and its accessories are original, but the keys of the tub and shower are not. Finally, the small bedroom, which can barely accommodate a single bed, is located next to the stairs, with the window facing south.

The House of Juan O’Gorman of 1929
Incorporating various innovations that represented a real architectural challenge, the first modern house in Mexico was designed and built by Juan O’Gorman between 1929 and 1931. An example of this is the glazed study of the upper floor, with three floor-to-ceiling windows and corner to corner, with a perimeter concrete frame that surrounds them completely, horizontally and vertically.

Shade garden, named for the architect, is limited by three columns that refer to slender pilotis of Le Corbusier; From this space begins the helical staircase that required a rigorous control of its geometry and construction process.

The terraces defined by round stone river and magueyes tecorrales are the uneven solution between what were two tennis courts and the street. With the passage of time they disappeared, but in the process of restoration of the building in 2012-2013 they were rebuilt from vestiges and photographs.

The cactus fences surrounding the site give full transparency to its limits, which allows this house to be visually integrated into the neighboring buildings of Diego and Frida.

The north facade is almost blind, with two tall and horizontal windows on each floor that correspond to the kitchen and bathrooms. In the center, lower the rainwater collection pipe from the roof, collected by a concrete channel, on which the water tanks appear. Like all metallic elements, these show the usual anticorrosive red paint at the time.

The restoration included the reconstruction of the complex aerial helical staircase, the laying of new foundations and the metallic reinforcement of all the vertical supports, in addition to the change of certain mud walls for concrete to comply with the current norms against earthquakes.

The ground floor
Access to the house through a hall, named after O’Gorman, is limited by a curved wall that communicates with the service and the kitchen. On the other side are the living room and dining room, in which life was developed in common, family or with friends.

The internal staircase leads to the private part of the house. It is made of concrete with artificial granite finish inked in red and linoleum on the tracks and rest. Under this is a metal stove as heating. The metallic shot visibly crosses the space to heat the entire property. Mostly, the flattened walls are made of hollow pressed mud block, looking for lightness and thermal insulation. The painting reproduces the original colors. The electrical wiring is completely visible, and the windows and doors have metal profiles.

The Study
The study is undoubtedly the most important of all the spaces in the house. It constitutes a remarkable innovation in the context of modern architecture in the world. Although the factories had already used glass facades entirely, the same was not true in domestic architecture. In this house three of the faces that close a space were used. The glass surfaces are projected outwards by the surrounding frame, leaving the three columns of the upper floor free, thus emphasizing the idea of a box made only of glass, from corner to corner. The longest of the faces, to the west, has folding sheets in the form of screens, which allow to open the study to fully integrate the outer space with the interior.

In the only wall a niche opens and the final section of the chimney appears, to partially heat this room. As in the rest of the house, the electrical installations are visible, the slab has the imprint of the apparent formwork and the stave floor is inked with the color of the pigment “congo”.

The stairs, the circulations and the bathroom
The interior staircase and the circulations have as a handrail a solution that O’Gorman adopted in many of his works of this time: hydraulic pipes joined with plumbing pieces, such as elbows and “T”, always painted with the antioxidant red.

The longest corridor leads to the three bedrooms: two of them very small and the main one with its own bathroom, currently operating areas of the museum. The shortest aisle has a niche to accommodate a wood or fuel heater as it was called, placed where its function makes it more efficient, near the two bathrooms.

The bathroom that is open retains all its original elements: furniture, keys, faucets, towel rails and accessories for sanitary paper. The solution with pulleys to open the vents, whose height prevents moving by hand, deserves attention. On the side where he would put his head when using the tub, O’Gorman left a hole that he repeated in Frida Kahlo’s house. The floor of the bathrooms is made of artificial granite, unlike the rest of the house, which is made of pine with the yellow dye of the time, called “congo”. The doors with metal profiles and fibro-cement panels.

On the north facade, the house has a second service access. The area in sight contained the laundry room and a water heater; It currently houses part of the exhibition space cooling equipment. The floor of this sector, like that of the kitchen, is made of red artificial granite, the same type as the one used in the interior staircase. In the background is the exterior door of the kitchen. At the top of the curved wall, a curved cut also allows a single spotlight to illuminate this site and the area of the main door.

The north facade, the one that receives less sun and is therefore cooler, has only a few horizontal windows. The two lower ones correspond to the kitchen and the upper ones to the two bathrooms. The concrete slab of the roof becomes a gutter of the same material, which works to collect rainwater from the entire roof, lowering it by a visible tube, a solution that will be a distinctive of O’Gorman. Equally characteristic are the tinacos, always noticeable and finished with the antioxidant red paint.

Dining room mural
During the restoration process of this house in 2012, the team of the Center for the Conservation and Registration of the Movable Artistic Heritage of the INBA (CENCROPAM), in charge of looking for vestiges of the original color of the walls, noticed signs of something different on this wall. After inquiries with specialists, the existence of a fresco of which there was news was confirmed, so it was decided to look for what had survived, appearing the line (or synopia, by name in Italian) used as a guide for painting. In him the indications of the tasks (days) in which O’Gorman divided the work for its execution are distinguished. On these areas the colors are applied to the fresco.

When the architect sold the house, he removed the fresco using the Italian technique of the strappo: sticking a cloth over the paint to peel it off by pulling it. Once the pictorial layer is removed, it is fixed on a prepared fabric. O’Gorman included an allusive legend in the cool and enlienzado. This work belongs to the collection of the National Bank of Mexico and it shows a photographic reproduction.

The mural work is entitled: Between philosophy and science there is quite a difference. In the lower left corner, the representation of a corpse refers to sterile discussion and backwardness. In the opposite, a beautiful naked woman with a glass full of fruits by her side exhibits the triumph of science, industry and progress. This confrontation of ideas is something that Juan O’Gorman repeated on the theme of the stone mural of the Central Library of the UNAM in University City.

Other facilities

Photo studio
In O’Gorman’s original drawing for this small construction, it is noted that it would house a laboratory and a photographic archive, although it is not clear that he was thinking of Guillermo Kahlo, Frida’s father. A small room was adapted to receive the sanitary services of the visitors, and the remaining rooms were destined for offices.

Garage and Services
At the bottom of the land, Juan O’Gorman built a small annex of a plant with garage and two service rooms. The greatest innovation in this area is found in the construction system of the roof of all spaces, which consists of a slab of thin concrete ribs surrounding block and hollow clay block cases. This solution would be taken by O’Gorman immediately to all the mezzanines and decks of the houses of Diego and Frida, as well as others that he built during the first half of the 1930s. The metal doors of the garage, of the blind type, are a modern solution elaborated in the restoration project and were painted gray, instead of red, to differentiate them from the original metallic elements. Originally, the garage was closed with a rolling metal curtain.