The Crazy, True Story of How Famed Architect Luis Barragán’s Ashes Were Turned Into a Diamond

A renowned architect from a wealthy Jalisco family passes away, leaving behind a massive professional archive that is put up for auction. A Swiss furniture magnate purchases the archive as a gift to his sweetheart in lieu of an engagement ring. The furniture magnate’s fiancée locks the architect’s legacy away from the world, leaving his loving family and the people of Mexico deprived of one of their greatest national treasures.

An American conceptual artist catches wind and decides to intervene: with the blessing of the architect’s family she exhumes his cremated remains and forges a two-carat diamond from the ashes. Entitled “The Proposal”, the family hopes this artistic gesture will inspire the Swiss owners to return the archives to Mexico.

Starting to sound like a telenovela?

Well, it’s not over yet. Now just imagine the deceased architect’s great-nephew flipping through the latest issue of The New Yorker and stumbling upon a long read titled “The Architect Who Became a Diamond.” Unwittingly, he is immersed in a detailed chronicle of how his beloved tío’s remains were exhumed, shipped off to Amsterdam, and compressed into a rough-cut diamond.

Enraged, the great-nephew goes to the press demanding that the architect’s remains be returned to their rightful resting place. The family members who signed off on the art project were never close to the architect, he insists. His late-grandmother was the architect’s universal heir and thus he should be only person legally entitled to make such a decision.

Luis Barragán
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So now it’s definitely a telenovela. Inheritance squabbles, illustrious families, foreign furniture magnates, grave-digging, human remains turned into a diamond: it sounds like the writers’ room over at Televisa San Angel got a little saucy and went extra wild with it. But this is actually a true story.

Yes, it really happened.

Caught in the midst of this racy international melodrama is the legacy of deceased architect Luis Barragán – Guadalajara’s native son who brought modernism to Mexico with spacious, geometric works like las Torres de Satélite and Jardines de Pedregal before he passed in 1988.

The artist who had the brilliant idea of turning a dead man into a diamond is Jill Magid, an associate at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design whose provocative conceptual work has been the subject of numerous exhibitions. The Swiss furniture magnate is real-life Swiss furniture magnate Rolf Fehlbaum, who purchased Barragán’s archives for his current wife Federica Zanco. And finally, the pissed off great-nephew is one Tadeo Pintado Barragán Cervantes Oman, who recently published an open letter on behalf of several other family members who were not consulted about the whole diamond thing.

Jill Magid
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It gives new meaning to the phrase, “You can’t make this stuff up.” Because, really, who could make this up? Unfortunately in this case, the stakes are much higher than in a limited-run television soap opera. To start, Barragán’s professional legacy should be available to the public, plus his ashes really were turned into a diamond, and his great-nephew is evidently really really bothered by the whole thing.

Now we’ll all just have to wait and see if the Magid is actually just Barragán disguised as a woman, or if his “great-nephew” was actually his secret lovechild, or… Well, we’ll leave that to Televisa.