An architect, an artist, a revolutionary.
Leon Trotsky. Born 1879. A staunch Marxist, he fought in the 1917 October Revolution in Russia and quickly rose to power in the Communist Party. After unsuccessfully opposing Stalin in the 1920s, he was rapidly demoted and ultimately dismissed from Stalin’s regime. By 1929, he and wife Natalia Sedova were exiled from Russia, eventually landing in Mexico City in 1937 at the family house of friends and supporters, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. An ideological row with Rivera led to Trotsky’s eviction. He and Sedova moved to a nearby house on Avenida Viena in April 1939. There, he survived an attack led by a Soviet assassin in 1940. Later that same year, Trotsky would be murdered with an ice pick by another Soviet operative. Trotsky’s house on Avenida Viena is now a house museum, preserved much as it was on the day of his death.
Frida Kahlo. Born 1907 in the family house at Londres 247 in the bohemian Colonia Del Carmen neighbourhood. Kahlo spent much of her early life in this house, first recuperating from polio and then a disabling bus accident, all the while painting her way out of misery. Meeting and marrying Diego Rivera in 1929 saw her leave the family home but serious illness drew her back to her family home, where where she died in 1954. In spite of Kahlo and Rivera’s tumultuous relationship, Rivera was very much a part of the life of the house, paying an outstanding mortgage, expanding it, securing it during Trotsky’s residency and donating it to Mexico, four years after Kahlo’s death. Now known as La Casa Azul, the house operates as a museum, looking much as it did in 1951.
Luis Barragán. Born 1902 in Guadalajara, Mexico. It was here that he would graduate as an engineer and practice architecture before leaving for Mexico City in 1936. His early career consisted primarily of residential work, in downtown Guadalajara and the upscale Jardines del Pedregal residential development in Mexico City. In 1947, he began construction of his own house at General Francisco Ramírez, 12 and 14 in the working class Tacubaya neighbourhood. Barragán died in 1988 in his own house. It became a carefully curated museum in 1994. UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 2004.
There we have it: three unique people born within 28 years of the other and who grew up—or ended up—in Mexico City. And three unique homes, each architecturally impressive in its own way and brought to life by its occupants with objects of personal meaning. I have grouped the photographs that follow, but not labelled which home is Barragán’s or Trotsky’s or Kahlo’s. It is obvious. Inside each collection of photos, inside the stone or brick or concrete walls of each home, on walls and floors and tables filled with artifacts and memorabilia, is a portrait of a passionate personality finding his or her own, unique path through life.