Juan Wørner y Baz | 1928 – 2015
Baz developed a unique Modern Mexican Colonial architecture style. His Tucson projects have become classics.
Baz developed a unique Modern Mexican Colonial architecture style. His Tucson projects have become classics.
The relationship between architect Josias Joesler and the Murpheys has been widely documented. In many ways this relationship has overshadowed the Murphey’s history with other notable architects. Even after Joesler’s death in 1956, prominent real estate developers, John and Helen Murphey continued their patronage of other talented architects, including forming a relationship with a young architect from Mexico City.
In 1952, while staying at the newly built Continental Hilton in Mexico City, the Murpheys met architect Juan Wørner Baz. Helen Murphey initiated the meeting when she asked to meet the architect and interior decorator of the hotel. Like her husband, Helen was fascinated by Mexican-inspired design and Mexican history. Helen even kept a personal scrapbook of photographs and drawings of Mexican architectural details she observed during family vacations (Jeffery 1994). When Helen was introduced to Wørner Baz, he was a recently graduated architecture and interior design student, who had just completed an addition to movie star Delores Del Rio’s home and his largest project-to-date, the Continental Hilton. The Continental Hilton (demolished in 1985 after significant earthquake damage) was a modernist high-rise hotel in the historic center of Mexico City. Like many of his contemporaries working in Mexico City at that time, Wørner Baz created a modernist, international-style inspired design with long expanses of glass and windows, supported by heavy concrete piers, and edged with scalloped concrete balconies (4 November 1984, Arizona Daily Star).
The Murpheys, impressed by Wørner Baz’ work, commissioned him to build their new home in the Catalina Foothills. His Tucson architectural debut, Casa Juan Paisano (roughly translated as, “the house of my countryman John”) was completed in 1961. The new home was to be built on the land the Murpheys had reserved expressly for this purpose. With Casa Juan Paisano, the Murpheys would finally reside in the residential community they had helped to create.
The home took over a year to build and when it was completed, the Murphey’s new residence was a hybridization of modernist and colonial architecture—two style combinations unique to Tucson and unique to the architects typically associated with the Murpheys (including Josias Joesler and Roy Place). Wørner Baz described his own style as “Mexican Colonial” rather than Spanish Colonial Revival, explaining his personal style thusly,
Mexican Colonial architecture is made up of several parts…there is tremendous power in it. It is massive and holds to the ground. That part definitely comes to us from the Aztecs. Spanish architecture itself has two branches. From the religious we get the grandeur, from the Arabic, the delicacy. The Arabs are wonderful in handling the sun. They use screens beautifully. And water. They are masters with so much flair (4 November 1984, Arizona Daily Star).
The arrangement of space and proportion also reflected Wørner Baz’ cultural heritage and modernist sensibilities. He believed that narrow openings and tall ceilings, for example, could influence how space was perceived. Wørner Baz also preferred buildings that mirrored their environments. Unlike the large-scale modernist buildings he designed in Mexico City, his Tucson projects reflected his belief that the local topography required long, horizontal buildings—buildings that better harmonized with their desert setting. Moreover, he wanted his Tucson buildings’ exteriors to reflect a colonial appearance, while keeping the interiors formal with few colonial details. His attention to his cultural heritage manifested itself at Casa Juan Paisano —from its long, horizontal massing, to its decorative concrete details, attention to setting, and incorporation of outdoor space as living space through loggia, atriums, glass curtain walls, and exterior pocket doors. In addition to reflecting Wørner Baz’ cultural heritage, Casa Juan Paisano also pays homage to Mexico’s burgeoning modernist architectural movement of the late 1950s and 1960s; a movement emphatically embraced in Mexico City and inspired by early practitioners, Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier (Fraser 2000).
Following World War I, European and American architects sought to create a new architectural style that would reflect modern society. The Twentieth century was a time of rapid technological change, including advancements in industrial design and structural engineering. Traditional revival style architecture was seen as outdated and the antithesis of a progressive modern society. The common belief was that function should form the basis for design, specifically design free from superfluous decoration. This principle became the basis of what would become known as modern or international-style architecture. The three fundamental concepts of modern design were 1) function, 2) utilization of new construction technologies, and 3) eschewing historical references (Tyler 2000).
Not all architects working during the 1950s and 1960s were so ready to shrug off historic or regional architectural styles in favor of “new” or international architecture. In fact, many Mexican architects created modern designs inspired by or combined with the architecture of previous decades. This is especially evident in the work of Barragan, who utilized traditional Spanish colonial designs in his modernist work. Wørner Baz was one of these architects. Place and setting played a significant role in his designs, as did function. Residential buildings were often referential, while commercial designs were in keeping with the tenets of international-style architecture. Moreover, Wørner Baz continued to use bold decoration, including massive concrete scrolls, vaults, and statuary.
When Wørner Baz designed Casa Juan Paisano, he created a modernist expression of a traditional Mexican hacienda. All the signature features of both colonial and modernist architecture are at work at Casa Juan Paisano, yet neither style is in conflict with the other. At first look, Casa Juan Paisano presents a Mexican colonial façade, including flat roof with parapet, ceramic tiled overhangs, white plaster walls, decorative chimney tops, concrete decorative details, statuary, and carved low-relief doors (McAlester and McAlester 2005). Upon closer inspection, the home exhibits many of the basic tenets of modernism: Low, boxy massing, cantilevered overhangs, glass curtain walls, and long expanses of unadorned wall surfaces, broken up only by narrow rectangular window openings. Although the front entry and dining room window are capped by arched concrete relief, the openings themselves are rectangular, rather than arched as is typical of colonial architecture. Moreover, colonial architecture usually has shallow overhangs over windows and doors and is often supported by pillars or posts (McAlester and McAlester 2005). At Casa Juan Paisano, overhangs project outward, past the footprint of the house, supported only by exterior walls. Moreover, these features are functional, not simply decorative, and shade the interior of the building.
In 1962, when The Architectural Digest featured the Murphey’s new home, the subtitle of the article was, “Introducing Mexican Colonial [architecture] into the contemporary southwest” (1962:5). While Joesler and Wørner Baz shared many similarities in their use of revival-style design features, including infusing many of their designs with Middle Eastern details, Wørner Baz was designing buildings wholly different than his predecessor. Where Joesler was subtle, Wørner Baz was extravagant; but in both cases, the architects hired by the Murpheys helped introduce new architectural styles to Tucson. Indeed, the introduction of “new” architecture into Tucson’s built environment was exactly what the Murpheys wanted from the architects they hired. With Wørner Baz, the Murpheys were able to continue and expand on the legacy they had begun with Josias Joesler.
In 1961, shortly after completing Casa Juan Paisano, the Murpheys commissioned Wørner Baz to design an annex to Joesler’s Broadway Village Shopping Center (Tucson’s first shopping mall). While many Tucsonans were familiar with the Murphey’s architectural imprint of Mexican-inspired designs, according to John Murphey, Wørner Baz was designing buildings the likes of which Tucsonans had never seen (14 June 1961, Tucson Daily Citizen). In the local press, John Murphey explained that he was attempting an architectural “tour de force”, and lauded the accomplishments of Wørner Baz, explaining that he would spare no expense to complete Wørner Baz’ design and noting that every penny “would be worth it.” The Broadway Village Annex became Wørner Baz’ commercial Tucson debut and what John Murphey called his own architectural “swan song”. Even the Tucson Daily Citizen concurred with John Murphey, describing the building as “traffic-stopping” (14 June 1961). While the Broadway Village Annex building was not the last building commissioned by John Murphey (he lived another eighteen years), by the end of 1961, both he and Helen solidified their patron-architect relationship with Wørner Baz, much as they had done with Joesler. Based on the success of Casa Juan Paisano and the Broadway Village Annex building, the Murphey’s effectively adopted Juan Wørner Baz as the architect to succeed Josias Joesler.
Between 1961 and 1966, the Murpheys helped infuse Wørner Baz’ Mexican Colonial architecture into Tucson’s architectural landscape, hiring him to design a number of other residential and commercial buildings in Tucson, the most notable of which were the Broadway Village Annex building, Catalina Foothills Condominiums, and a geometric concrete water fountain fronting the entry to the Catalina Foothills Estates No. 7. Through his connection with the Murpheys, Wørner Baz was able to expand his Tucson portfolio, designing residential and commercial properties for wealthy friends of the Murpheys including houses in the Catalina Foothills, El Encanto Estates, and Aldea Linda Estates, as well as the former Southern Arizona Bank at Sarnoff Road and Broadway Boulevard. Even after he returned to Mexico, he would fly to Tucson to attend various social events and was often included in the local socialite pages (8 November 1969, Tucson Daily Citizen).
After nearly a decade hiatus from Tucson in which Wørner Baz returned to his Mexico City architecture firm, PITTAS, Helen Murphey asked him to come back to Tucson to help design his final Murphey project, St. Phillips Plaza Retail Shopping Center at the corner of River Road and Campbell Avenue (4 November 1984, Arizona Daily Star).
Because many of Wørner Baz’ Tucson buildings have not yet reached the 50-year age requirement for NRHP-listing and have not been previously listed on the NRHP, many of his buildings are in jeopardy. Recent threats to Wørner Baz-designed buildings include incompatible alterations to the Broadway Village Annex and St. Phillips Plaza (Sorenson 2009).