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Hallowed Luis Barragán Fountain Inspires Spectacular Remodel

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Photos: Julius Shulman & Juergen Nogai ©Juergen Nogai

Today we are particularly thrilled to run the above never-before-published photos by legendary lensman Julius Shulman, who captured a Los Angeles house that was completely renovated by Tim Campbell. Campbell got a call one day from a couple of developers who had a project with a courtyard fountain that was designed by the late, great Mexican architect Luis Barragán and completed after his death. While Barragán had nothing to do with the house—it was a "weird, jumbled, ugly structure" when Campbell first saw it—Campbell was intimately familiar with his work, having worked in Mexico City, and hoped to "end up with a beautiful house that was respectful of what he would have done." Sure enough, when the Los Angeles Times ran a story on the project back in 2008, they contacted one of the world's foremost Barragán experts in Texas, who was skeptical that Barragán had designed the fountain but was convinced that he had, in fact, designed the house. It was the ultimate tip of the cowboy hat to Campbell and his excellent work. (Ultimately, both the expert and the Barragán Foundation ended up confirming the authenticity of the fountain and its plans.) Herein, we chat with Campbell about the process of recreating a house around the historic fountain.

Curbed National: Tell us a bit more about what the fountain and house looked like when you first saw them.
Tim Campbell: The fountain was pretty striking, in tact, and in pretty good working order, but the mechanics needed fixing—we were not able to touch the fountain, but we were able to restore it. The house itself that was there when I came to work on the project, and it had been designed and redesigned. There was not enough square footage and the layout was really really odd. So we wanted to redesign the building surrounding the fountain in terms of what Barragán would have done had he had the chance to work on that portion.

CN: In what ways did you incorporate Barragán's sensibility?
TC: My feeling was that we really needed to create something about the fountain and also back away from the fountain completely. So we designed a series of white cubes, reminiscent of what Barragán did, but the primary colors he used don't work well in the L.A. light. They work well in Mexico City. The result turned out to be a little Mediterranean and a little Cape Cod.

CN: Can you speak about the specific elements of the remodel?
TC: We stripped the house down to the bones, reconfigured the layouts of all of the rooms to put the public areas of the house in a place where they were more engaged with the fountain, and put the secondary rooms in part of the house that was quieter and less public. We created a master suite and that opened out on to the fountain and added a tower element that connects all parts of the house on the first and second floors—it connects to a bridge that opens to the master suite. It was really about solving programming issues by adding the tower element and bridge, reprogramming the inside spaces to be more contemporary, and emphasizing their relationship to the fountain.

CN: You're a lover of Barragán's work. What was it like being in the presence of that fountain for the duration of the project?
TC: The fountain is a really powerful element—the fountain and pool itself can function at various speeds. At the highest speeds, the water is a torrent coming down, and it really blocks out any street noises and it runs at a couple of speeds below that. It's really powerful, it's ponted and strong, and it's made out of this red Cantera stone that Barragán mined from a quarry in Mexico, which was opened just for this project and closed. My feeling about that was in the presence of a star—and I've worked for a lot of celebrities—you can never step into the light. My goal with the house was really to ultimately be mindful of who the fountain was and who made it, and its place in history. Everything about the design of the house was to look at and pay respect to the fountain, but not attempt to overpower it or upstage it in any way. I felt a sense tremendous respect and awe and honor and getting to do this project, and so I felt an obligation to honor that gift of getting this job.

CN:Finally, tell us what it was like to have this photographed by the great Julius Shulman. What was your experience working with him?
TC: Fucking amazing. I knew Julius through a few other projecst that I had worked on. If there was a pretty girl around, he became the most charming, engaging, funny man. As it turned out, my assistant was pretty, and she was at the first couple of hours of the photoshoot. He doted on her and had her working his ass off to keep her around. He was walking around with his walker, setting up shots, and flirting. He was charming and funny and sharp and very, very clear about the shots—there were never any discussions about. He walked in, and said, "Here's a shot. I want this shot, from this angle, at this light." Amazing.


· Studio Tim Campbell [official site]
· A rare Luis Barragán fountain at an L.A. home? Maybe [L.A. Times]