Design Destination: Mexico City with Sean Yashar and Oliver Furth

Cultured and creative only minimally describe the talents of thinker Sean Yashar, of The Culture Creative and designer Oliver Furth. Whether changing the design landscape for the city of Los Angeles, mentoring emerging artists, or consulting for local art institutions, this power couple has an aesthetic unparalleled in the design community. We recently uncovered a vault of images from their trip to Mexico City and had to learn more about their design exploration. 

-What specifically drew you to Mexico City?

Yashar: Because of Luis Barragán, Mexico City is a modernist architecture pilgrimage site. Anni and Josef Albers too, as they made 14 trips to Mexico between 1935 and 1967, and these visits heavily influenced their body of work. We wanted to experience their work through the lens of their travels.

Furth: Barragán’s architecture was surely a draw. But the city is rich with amazing things to please all our senses including all that amazing architecture, the Diego Rivera murals, contemporary art, locally made crafts and textiles, the Aztec ruins, and I’m a sucker for a great taco!

Details from Teotihuancan Palace

-How would you describe the design sensibilities in Mexico City?

YasharPost-Mayan

Furth: Minimalist minimalism

-The region is known for its contribution to modern furniture design. Are there any specific designers or brands you covet?

Yashar: The beautiful brass and stone inlay furniture of Pepe Mendoza. My clients and friends Adam Blackman and David Cruz of Blackman Cruz Gallery are known to have a “passion for Pepe” and have been championing his works as well as those of other Mexican modernist makers throughout their careers.

Furth: Mexico City has a wonderful history of designers working during the 20th century: Pepe Mendoza, Arturo Pani, Robert and Mito Block, Pedro Friedeberg, Don Shoemaker. Right now, I have my eyes on Gloria Cortina, who works mostly in locally harvested obsidian mounted in metal.

Diego Rivera mural at Palacion Nacional

 -How has Mexican design inspired your work since the trip?

Yashar: The combined home and studios of Diego and Frida spoke to us, as we also share a live/work environment. Their compound was so before its time, and it reinforced our ideas of how live/work spaces should connect and function harmoniously.  

Furth: I keep thinking about the focused quality of light in those Barragán buildings. His skylights, which have been inspiration to Frank Gehry, Tado Ando, and others, will certainly haunt me for a long time to come. I’m excited to see more of the back and forth relationship between Mexico and Southern California when LACMA puts on a wonderful show on mid-20th-century Mexican modernism next year.

A quirky shrine to Iman in Barragan's bedroom

-What was the most memorable design experience during the trip?

The modernist church just outside the city was designed and funded by Luis Barragán. This masterpiece of Mexican modernism can only be seen by appointment, and even then it can be difficult to get in. It is still occupied and used by the members of the Capuchinas convent, who live on-site. The two of us had a private tour by one of the nuns, in Spanish. No cameras or cell phones are allowed inside the main chapel or any of the ancillary rooms, so there are very few pictures available to see. The building was designed for meditation and silent prayer, so the design is sober and understated, but the scale and light and is magical-pure modernist philosophy in physical form. It’s probably the most powerful and peaceful space either of us has ever experienced. Literally brought us to tears.

La Gruta cave restaurant

Your Mexico City Favorites…

HOTEL - Skip booking a hotel and rent an Airbnb in the Beaux Arts neighborhood of Roma.

ART GALLERYArchivo. It’s not so much a gallery as it is an incubator space dedicated to collecting and rethinking architecture and design in Mexico.  

RESTAURANT- San Ángel Inn. A beautiful courtyard restaurant in an 18th-century hacienda that serves the best tamarind margaritas! It feels like Chateau Marmont with mariachis. 

STRUCTURE- The rooftop courtyard at Barragán’s house for its brightly colored walls and stone flooring, and no furniture or objects. Just a lone bougainvillea vine and beautiful shadows.

LANDMARK– UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) campus. A slice of Mexican modernist architecture and a UNESCO World Heritage site that was designed by some of Mexico's best-known 20th-century architects.

MURAL– Diego Rivera’s murals in the Ministry of Education building downtown. Three floors of verandas surrounding an open-air courtyard, with all the walls clad in Rivera’s beautiful and thought-provoking frescoes. 

SHOPPING- Every corner had a cart or kiosk selling beautiful artisanal wares. We brought home a half dozen handwoven blankets in the most beautiful dark green color that will recover a small sofa in our sitting room.

Art in a toilet room in the Contessa Hotel

 

 

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