Culture

Several years ago Alexander Andersson. a third-generation furniture maker with a Swedish-Mexican hefitoge, bought a couple of benches in Mexico City, "I could tell by the way they were constructed that they were made by an architect—they were built like bridges," he remembers. Indeed, they were the work of Pedro Ramirez Vasquez a pioneedng architect who died in 2013. Andersson met with Vasguez's son, Xavier, who shared his father's archives, and thus began Luteca, Whose 20-piece collection is  made in Mexico City. In the 1970s it was very difficult to make metal cuts, which shows how visionary my father was" Xavier says. The architect's work is part of "Latin America in Construction: Architectare 1955-1980," an exhibition at New York's, Museum of Modern Ad through July 19.

Pedro Ramírez Vázquez: Eight Reasons the Midcentury Icon Deserves Your Attention

The late Modernist architect—the Frank Gehry of Mexico—makes a good cocktail-party mention this week, especially now that his furniture’s back on the scene

By IAN VOLNER

HE WAS A ONE-MAN midcentury design powerhouse in Mexico, an architect whose contributions—especially his stewardship of the 1968 Olympics—made him one of the country’s true talents. Pedro Ramírez Vázquez (1919-2013) combined a knack for buildings that have the formal daring and pop appeal of, say, Frank Gehry with the political clout and urban impact of New York master-planner Robert Moses. Here’s what else you need to know.

His biggest fan: Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius first met Mr. Ramírez Vázquez in 1952 in Mexico City and was smitten. “Young man,” said Mr. Gropius, “you’re going to soar.”

His most famous building: The National Museum of Anthropology—a concrete megalith built in 1964 that nodded to Mexico City’s monumental Aztec temples—was hailed by American architect Philip Johnson as “the best museum in the world.”

His life’s work, in 20 words or less: To give Mexico a reputation as a leading-edge architectural destination, combining elements of his country’s past with forward-looking European Modernism.

His gold medal: As president of the organizing committee for the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, he left an indelible mark on the city, and, thanks to graphic designer Lance Wyman, gave the games its coolest logo.

His lowest moment: Also the 1968 Olympics. Ten days before the opening ceremony, dozens (and possibly hundreds) of student protesters were killed by soldiers of the Mexican government, Mr. Ramírez Vázquez’s biggest, most important client. In the minds of many, he was guilty by association.

His weakness: Sugar. “He always stole everyone’s dessert,” recalled his son, Javier. “But he was a wonderful grandfather.”

Why now: This week, newly launched Mexican furniture brand Luteca reissued his Equipal Chair, one of the best examples of his cultural synthesis—with its pre-Columbian-meets-Bauhausian vibe.

Next up: “Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955-1980,” organized by curator Barry Bergdoll at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, opens March 29 and will include several of Mr. Ramírez Vázquez’s architectural works.

Three years ago Swedish-Mexican designer Alexander Andersson happened upon a cache of cedar benches in La Lagunilla, Mexico City’s sprawling weekend flea market.

“They were so spectacular, I knew someone great had designed them,” Andersson says.

He went with his gut and bought all 12, hiring a truck to haul the massive pieces to his garage. The epiphany didn’t come until a year later during a visit to the city’s renowned anthropology museum. The exact same seats were installed in the main hall of the building’s iconic interior: “Of course,” Andersson realized. “Pedro Ramírez Vázquez.”

The famous Mexican modernist architect (1919–2013), who worked mostly in concrete, was behind a handful of Mexico City monuments: the Museum of Modern Art, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the National Anthropology Museum.

There’s no telling how the pieces Andersson bought were separated from the original set, which was made on commission specifically for the museum. Andersson immediately phoned the aged architect, then in his 90s, and asked whether he would authenticate the pieces, which he hoped to sell in art galleries. In a serendipitous moment, Vázquez invited him over to his studio space in the Jardines del Pedregal.

“He signed my certificates, and he gave me a tour of the house—and all of a sudden I saw this piece in one corner, that piece in another corner, and I thought, Everything is amazing. So I asked him, ‘Who has the license for your furniture?’”

Vázquez’s response: “License?”

And so a collection was born. Andersson took on the production rights to Vázquez’s designs that, until then, had been created only as prototypes or in limited editions for projects. Striking tables in polished stainless steel and brass are each made from single pieces of metal, cut and folded. A regal Equipal chair in leather and stainless steel is a modern riff on the emblematic wood-and-leather chair from Mexican history.

“It used to be the chair of emperors,” Andersson explains. “They say Montezuma had one.”

The reeditions of Vázquez’s furnishings join a collection of Andersson’s own designs to form Luteca, the brand that launched this week at New York’s Hotel Americano (not coincidentally designed by Mexican architect Enrique Norten) in Chelsea.

While Luteca's headquarters is in New York City, the real magic happens in the Mexico City design studio and workshop, where every item of furniture is made with traditional processes. Rather than welding, metal pieces are held together by tiny screws. Old-school joinery techniques are used on wood furnishings. To polish a single chair can take a whole week.

“The idea is to create contemporary products and preserve Mexican handcraft,” Andersson says, a calling both he and Vázquez have shared.

Pieces from the Luteca collection will be available starting next week at Twentieth, 7470 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles, twentieth.net. Call Luteca for more information, 646-510-5244; luteca.com.

Luteca Spotlight Twentieth