Juan O'Gorman

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Juan O'Gorman
Born(1905-07-06)6 July 1905
Coyoacán, Mexico
Died17 January 1982(1982-01-17) (aged 76)
Mexico City, Mexico
EducationAcademy of San Carlos
Art and Architecture School at National Autonomous University of Mexico
MovementFunctionalism, Mexican muralism
Patron(s)Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo

Juan O'Gorman (6 July 1905 – 17 January 1982) was a Mexican painter and architect.[1]

Early life and family[edit]

Juan O'Gorman was born on 6 July 1905 in Coyoacán,[2][3] then a village to the south of Mexico City and now a borough of the city, to an Irish immigrant father, Cecil Crawford O'Gorman and Encarnación O'Gorman Moreno. His parents were distant cousins. He had three younger siblings, Edmundo, Margarita and Tomás.[4][5] Despite his father's influence, O'Gorman chose to focus on architecture early in his career.[6] In 1927, he graduated from Academy of San Carlos, the Art and Architecture school at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.[3]

His first marriage was to Nina Wright, Russian-American architect. He later married Helen Fowler, an American artist with whom he had an adopted daughter.[5]


San Ángel houses[edit]

In 1929, O'Gorman purchased a plot containing two tennis courts in Mexico City's San Ángel colonia. On the plot, O'Gorman constructed a small house and studio intended for use by his father, now known as the Cecil O'Gorman House. The building's forms were strongly influenced by the work of Le Corbusier, whose theories of architecture O'Gorman studied.[7][8][9] O'Gorman dubbed the house the first functionalist structure in Latin America.[10][3]

Diego Rivera, a contemporary of O'Gorman, impressed with the design of the Cecil O'Gorman House, commissioned the architect to design a home for him and Frida Kahlo on an adjacent plot. The house was built in a similar functionalist style from 1931 to 1932.[3][5] The Rivera-Kahlo house was two houses connected by a bridge.[11] Both houses were purchased to be restored and opened to the public with the Rivera-Kahlo house operating as a museum.[12]


In 1932, Narciso Bassols, then Secretary of Education, appointed O'Gorman to the position of Head of Architectural Office of the Ministry of Public Education, where he went on to design and build 26 elementary schools in Mexico City.[5] The schools were built with the philosophy of "eliminating all architectural style and executing constructions technically."[13]

After 6 years of functionalist projects, O'Gorman turned away from strict functionalism later in life and worked to develop an organic architecture, combining the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright with traditional Mexican constructions.[14]

Central Library at Ciudad Universitaria (UNAM)[edit]

O'Gorman's mural Historical Representation of Culture on the Central Library at UNAM

Juan O'Gorman's most celebrated work due to its creativity, construction technique, and dimensions, are the four thousand square meters murals covering the four faces of the building of the Central Library at Ciudad Universitaria at UNAM. These murals are mosaics made from millions of colored stones that he gathered all around Mexico in order to be able to obtain the different colors he needed.[8] The north side pictures Mexico's pre-Hispanic past and the south facade its colonial one, while the east wall depicts the contemporary world, and the west shows the university and contemporary Mexico.[15]

From the beginning, I had the idea of making mosaics of colored stones in the walls of the collections, with a technique in which I was already well experienced. With these mosaics the library would be different from the other buildings of Ciudad Universitaria, and it would be given a particular Mexican character.[16]

Later work[edit]

O'Gorman built and designed his own house in the suburb of Pedregal,[17] which was part built structure part natural cave, which is known as "The Cave House" from 1953 to 1956. It was decorated with mosaics throughout. It was demolished in 1969.[11]

His paintings often treated Mexican history, landscape, and legends. A mural commission in Pátzcuaro, Michoacan resulted in the huge "La historia de Michoacán" in the Biblioteca Pública Gertrudis Bocanegra in a former church.[18] He painted the murals in the Independence Room in Mexico City's Chapultepec Castle, and the huge murals of his own 1952 Central Library of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, designed with Gustavo Saavedra and Juan Martínez de Velasco.

In 1959, together with fellow artists, Raúl Anguiano, Jesús Guerrero Galván, and Carlos Orozco Romero, O'Gorman founded the militant Unión de Pintores y Grabadores de México (Mexican Painters and Engravers Union).[19]


Juan O'Gorman, 1950, self-portrait at the age of 45.

He died on 17 January 1982, as a result of suicide. Authorities believe the artist grew despondent after being diagnosed with a heart ailment which curtailed his work. O'Gorman was found dead at his home.[5][9][20]



  • Burian, Edward R. (1997). "The Architecture of Juan O'Gorman: Dichotomy and Drift". Modernity and the Architecture of Mexico. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-70852-1.
  • Burian, Edward R. (2005). "Modernity and Nationalism: Juan O'Gorman and Post-Revolutionary Architecture in Mexico, 1920-1960". In LeJeune, Jean-François (ed.). Cruelty & Utopia: Cities and Landscapes of Latin America. New York: Princeton Architectural Press. pp. 210–223. ISBN 1-56898-489-8.
  • O'Gorman, Juan. Juan O'Gorman. Inv. y coord. documental Ida Rodríguez Prampolini, Olga Sáenz y Elizabeth Fuentes. México: UNAM-Coordinación de Humanidades.
  • O'Gorman. México: Grupo Financiero Bital. 1999.
  • Prampolini, Ida Rodríguez (1983). Juan O'Gorman, arquitecto y pintor. México: UNAM-Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas.
  • Frasier, Valerie (2000). Building the New World: Modern Architecture in Latin America. Verso. ISBN 1-85984-787-0.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Cooke, Catherine Nixon (2016). Juan O'Gorman: A Confluence of Civilizations. Trinity University Press.


  1. ^ "Juan O'Gorman | Mexican architect and muralist". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-07-07.
  2. ^ "Juan O'Gorman". Latin American Art. Retrieved 2020-10-12.
  3. ^ a b c d Danes, Gibson (1942). "Juan O'Gorman". Southwest Review. 28 (1): 1–10. ISSN 0038-4712. JSTOR 43466639. Retrieved 12 October 2020.
  4. ^ Murray, Edmundo. "O'Gorman, Edmundo (1906-1995), historian". Dictionary of Irish Latin American Biography. Retrieved 12 October 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e Canales, Francisco Gonzales de (2015-06-12). "Juan O'Gorman (1905-1982)". Architectural Review. Retrieved 2020-10-12.
  6. ^ "Juan O'Gorman". Retrieved 2022-07-12.
  7. ^ "The Personal Debate of Juan O'Gorman". MAS CONTEXT. 2015-12-17. Retrieved 2020-01-01.
  8. ^ a b Traynor, Jessica (2018-12-26). "Juan O'Gorman, architect behind Mexico City's most intriguing buildings". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2020-10-12.
  9. ^ a b Quinn, Gary (2007-06-21). "Rediscovering our man in Mexico City, Juan O'Gorman". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2020-10-12.
  10. ^ Carranza, Luis E.; Lara, Fernando Luiz (2015-01-05). Modern Architecture in Latin America: Art, Technology, and Utopia. University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-76297-8.
  11. ^ a b "Juan O'Gorman". architectuul.com. Archived from the original on 2020-10-18. Retrieved 2020-10-13.
  12. ^ Orzechowski, Alan Rojas (2018-01-17). "Restoring the past: The Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Home Studio". www.iconichouses.org. Retrieved 2020-10-13.
  13. ^ Fraser, Valerie (2000). Building the new world : studies in the modern architecture of Latin America, 1930-1960. London: Verso. p. 47. ISBN 1-85984-307-7. OCLC 45912935.
  14. ^ O’Sullivan, Lucy (2019-04-03). "Diego Rivera and Juan O'Gorman: Post-Revolutionary Architectural Anatomies". Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies. 28 (2): 253–275. doi:10.1080/13569325.2019.1616166. ISSN 1356-9325. S2CID 198068606.
  15. ^ "Architectural Classics: Central Library, Ciudad Universitaria / Juan O'Gorman". ArchDaily. 2020-07-09. Retrieved 2020-10-13.
  16. ^ "Creación del mural". Biblioteca Central UNAM.
  17. ^ Gallanti, Fabrizio (2015-12-17). "The Personal Debate of Juan O'Gorman". MAS CONTEXT. Retrieved 2020-10-13.
  18. ^ Jolly, Jennifer, Creating Pátzcuaro, Creating Mexico: Art, Tourism, and Nation Building Under Lázaro Cárdenas. Austin: University of Texas Press 2018. ISBN 978-1477-314203
  19. ^ Murray, Edmundo (2008). Byrne, James P.; Coleman, Philip; King, Jason (eds.). Ireland and the Americas : culture, politics, and history : a multidisciplinary encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. pp. 709–710. ISBN 9781851096145.
  20. ^ "Juan O'Gorman, 76; Painter and Architect". The New York Times. 1982-01-20. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-10-12.

External links[edit]