Dictionary of Irish Latin American Biography

Juan O'Gorman (1905-1982)

(Autorretrato, 1950,

O'Gorman, Juan (1905-1982), Mexican architect and artist, was born on 6 July 1905 in Coyoacán, Mexico D.F., the eldest son of the Dublin-trained mining engineer and painter Cecil Crawford O'Gorman (1874-1943), who arrived in Mexico from Ireland in 1895, with his wife and cousin Encarnación O'Gorman. Cecil O'Gorman was the son of John O'Gorman, educated at Eton in England, and grandson of Charles O'Gorman, who in August 1823 has been appointed the first British consul to Mexico. The other children of Cecil and Encarnación O'Gorman were the historian Edmundo O'Gorman (1906-1995), Margarita O'Gorman and Tomás O'Gorman, a notary public.

Juan O'Gorman graduated in 1927 from the school of architecture at San Carlos Academy. He joined the studio of Obregón, Tarditi & Villagrán García, and later Obregón Santacilia. He lived in San Ángel, where in 1929 he bought two tennis courts facing a restaurant, and built a small house on one of them, including a miniature staircase and a glass-walled room on the upper floor, which would become emblematic of the new architecture.

O'Gorman was one of the architects who worked on the reconstruction of the Bank of Mexico. In 1931 he frescoed the library of Azcapotzalco and in 1937 decorated and painted the murals in Mexico City's first airport. In 1940, after an eight-month stay in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he was engaged in the great mural of Gertrudis Bocanegra Library, including scenes of the conquest of Michoacán, and the struggle for independence from Spanish rule. Juan O'Gorman's most imposing work was the decoration of the Central Library on the campus of the Universidad Autónoma, where he worked in 1949-1953 painting four thousand square metres with representations of historical scenes. Other important works include the Social Security Centre, the International Bank on Reforma Avenue, parks, theatres, museums, primary schools in Mexico city and private houses, such as that of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, styled 'the functional house'. Among his murals are those in the Independence Room of Mexico city's Chapultepec Castle.

Juan O'Gorman married Helen Fowler, a prestigious botanist and author of Mexican Flowering Trees and Plants (Mexico: Ammex Asociados, 1961). They adopted a daughter, María Elena [Bunny] O'Gorman, who studied and lives in the USA. According to Elena Poniatowska, Juan O'Gorman was 'an untainted, circumspect, honourable character. [...] his eyes are poignant and charming. He wears coveralls and a tweed coat against the cold weather' (Poniatowska 1999).

Juan O'Gorman incorporated Mexican culture, history, and environment in his works. He studied the styles of Le Corbusier and Villagrán, and as a muralist, was a member of the group formed by Diego Rivera, Clemente Orozco, Pablo O'Higgins and Rufino Tamayo. Evidencing a radical socialist influence in the early years of his career, Juan O'Gorman turned away from functionalist design and developed an organic use of space under the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright. He took his own life on 18 March 1982 in his house at San Angel. To ensure that this act would not fail, O'Gorman put a ladder against a tree, tied a sturdy electrical cord around the tree and then around his neck, then drank cyanide and shot himself through the temple. He was buried in Mexico City.


Edmundo Murray 


- Burian, Edward R. 'The Architecture of Juan O'Gorman: Dichotomy and Drift' in Edward R. Burian (ed.), Modernity and the Architecture of Mexico (University of Texas Press, 1997).

- Jiménez, Víctor. 'The Houses Juan O'Gorman made for Diego and Frida and the Story of their Restoration' in México en el Tiempo N° 20 (September-October 1997), available online (, accessed 3 February 2007.

- Placzek, Adolf K., Macmillan Encyclopaedia of Architects (London: The Free Press, 1982), Vol. 3, pp. 312-313.

- Poniatowska, Elena et al. O'Gorman (Mexico: América Arte Editores and Landucci, 1999).

Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies

Online published: 1 March 2007
Edited: 07 May 2009

Murray, Edmundo, 'O'Gorman, Juan (1905-1982), Mexican architect and artist
' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" 5:1 March 2007 (


The Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2005

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