Pasatiempo - - Pasa Tempos - Paul Wei­de­man

Build­ing blocks

One of the ex­hibits in the new show Road­cut: The

Ar­chi­tec­ture of An­toine Pre­dock at the Uni­ver­sity of New Mex­ico Art Mu­seum has noth­ing to do with ar­chi­tec­ture — or at least noth­ing ob­vi­ous. It’s a pair of mo­tor­cy­cles, a 1951 Vin­cent Black Shadow and a 1987 Du­cati 750 F1 La­guna Seca.

The link be­tween mo­tor­cy­cling and Pre­dock’s build­ing de­signs comes to light in a dis­cus­sion in the “Draw­ings” sec­tion of his web­site. There Pre­dock ad­mits to see­ing “the mak­ing of ar­chi­tec­ture and trav­el­ing as one in­ter­wo­ven ex­pe­ri­ence.” Dur­ing the 1960s, he used a mo­tor­cy­cle to take in build­ings and land­scapes in Mex­ico, Spain, France, Greece, and Por­tu­gal. In those early days, he car­ried with him some In­dia ink and a sketch­book. When stop­ping to draw, he would search for a twig or feather to use as his sty­lus. Check out the re­sults of this process and his more mod­ern works in pen, wa­ter­col­ors, and clay in Road­cut and a com­pan­ion ex­hi­bi­tion at the UNM Art Mu­seum ti­tled Like a

Sig­na­ture: Sketches and Mod­els. Both shows open on Fri­day, Jan. 28.

Pre­dock and Christo­pher Mead, the UNM Re­gents Pro­fes­sor who cu­rated Road­cut, are fea­tured in the art mu­seum’s Dis­tin­guished Speak­ers lec­ture se­ries. Pre­dock, the 2006 win­ner of the Amer­i­can In­sti­tute of Ar­chi­tects Gold Medal, talks about “Land­scape Ap­pari­tions” on Feb. 15, while Mead presents “Made in New Mex­ico” on Feb. 22. Both lec­tures take place at 5:30 p.m. in Ge­orge Pearl Hall on the UNM cam­pus.

Pre­dock’s draw­ings, over time, grew in two di­rec­tions: some­times much more ab­stract and other times more ges­tu­rally so­phis­ti­cated, in line with the com­plex­ity of the build­ings he has de­signed. Re­cent ex­am­ples in­clude Pearl Hall, the home of the Uni­ver­sity of New Mex­ico’s School of Ar­chi­tec­ture and Plan­ning, which opened in 2007; the Cor­ner­stone Arts Cen­ter in Colorado Springs, com­pleted in 2008 (which won a LEED Gold cer­ti­fi­ca­tion); and the quite ce­les­tial-look­ing Cana­dian Mu­seum of Hu­man Rights un­der con­struc­tion in Win­nipeg, Man­i­toba.

One I would love to see built is the World Mam­moth and Per­mafrost Mu­seum that Pre­dock con­ceived for Yakutsk, Re­pub­lic of Sakha, Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion. The broad vo­cab­u­lary be­hind such de­signs is avail­able to Pre­dock af­ter more than 40 years of prac­tice and many mo­tor­cy­cle trips. His water­color stud­ies of the pyra­mids in Egypt and the Pan­theon in Rome were done “with the thing in front of me, with its power pal­pa­ble and ev­i­dent,” he re­cently told Pasatiempo while driv­ing (not rid­ing!) on a Los An­ge­les free­way.

“When you draw some­thing, it kind of burns it into your sen­si­bil­ity, hope­fully. It’s dif­fer­ent from tak­ing a pic­ture, al­though pho­tog­ra­phy’s great; I do that, too. But when you draw some­thing, you have to look in a par­tic­u­lar way, and in do­ing that I think some­thing en­ters in that’s very es­sen­tial about the sub­ject. Some of the build­ings, like the Pan­theon, I drew over and over, and fi­nally I felt like I was sign­ing the build­ing, like I could draw it with my eyes closed.”

Pre­dock is also known for the clay mod­els he and his team build, based on draw­ings that rep­re­sent the build­ing idea in more em­bry­onic form. The smaller mod­els have been just a few square inches, like the ones he did for a 1993 build­ing for the Cal­i­for­nia State Polytech­nic Uni­ver­sity at Pomona and for his 1994 Mesa Pub­lic Li­brary in Los Alamos. Per­haps the biggest model, three feet by five feet, was the one he con­structed for the 1990 Palm Bay Re­sort and Casino in Agadir, Morocco.

Al­though these are scale mod­els, some of them have had a slightly dumpy or Gumby-like char­ac­ter. And isn’t com­puter-aided de­sign a more ath­letic medium for ex­per­i­ment­ing with ideas and forms and en­gi­neer­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties? “Yeah, but it takes over,” Pre­dock said. “I mean, we care­fully cod­ify and mea­sure the clay mod­els — we pho­to­graph them, mea­sure them, and scale them. They’re built to scale.

“The mod­els are very ac­cu­rate. They’re based on pro­gram el­e­ments my team cuts out for me. They cut out blocks that rep­re­sent pro­gram ar­eas for the build­ing, such as square footage and height. They’re ab­strac­tions, squares and rec­tan­gles, and they’re my

guide in terms of scale and re­al­ity when I’m shap­ing the clay. Then af­ter they’re mea­sured, we dig­i­tize them so we have a work­ing 3-D model to work from.

“In my work, process is as im­por­tant as the fi­nal thing,” he said. “With­out process, it’s empty. I think par­tic­u­larly the clay mod­els I make re­ally em­body the build­ing quite ac­cu­rately from day one. They couldn’t be more im­por­tant.”

Site, land­scape, and en­vi­ron­ment are also cru­cial to Pre­dock’s de­signs. In An­toine Pre­dock: Earth Meets Sky, a 2007 KNME-TV pro­file of the ar­chi­tect, he spoke of his ar­chi­tec­ture as “po­et­i­cally de­riv­ing a build­ing from place.” He de­scribed the New Mex­ico land­scape as “over­whelm­ing space, light, landforms that are sen­sa­tion­ally, crazily ... it’s like a ge­o­logic de­mo­li­tion derby here.”

A cross-sec­tion of that ge­o­logic con­cep­tion — the road­cut — has also in­spired Pre­dock. He calls it “a po­etic di­a­gram of an in­ves­tiga­tive process for the mak­ing of ar­chi­tec­ture.” At the bot­tom of the ide­al­ized road­cut is Pre­cam­brian gran­ite. Show­ing in lay­ers ap­proach­ing the sur­face are fos­sil-laden lime­stone and sand­stone, then cul­tural ar­ti­facts from the past few thou­sand years.

“When we think of a road­cut,” Pre­dock said, “it re­minds us of deeper time — not just the topi­cal­ity of place or the client’s pro­gram as the pre­mium thing, but rather a deeper obli­ga­tion to place as tran­scended of style or any kind of easy for­mula. So when you think of ge­o­logic time, es­pe­cially in New Mex­ico, it goes so deep, so far back, and you no­tice that the cul­tural stra­tum on top of it is just a cou­ple of mil­lime­ters on a me­ter stick. So the road­cut re­minds me to con­nect with a deeper place.”

The Road­cut show fo­cuses on 10 case stud­ies, among them the La Luz town­house com­mu­nity (1967) and Río Grande Na­ture Cen­ter (1998), both in Al­bu­querque; the Amer­i­can Her­itage Cen­ter at the Uni­ver­sity of Wy­oming (1993); the Austin, Texas, City Hall and Pub­lic Plaza (2004); and the Cana­dian Mu­seum for Hu­man Rights. Each of the case stud­ies is il­lus­trated with mod­els, pho­to­graphs, and sketches. Like a Sig­na­ture, on view in the mu­seum’s Van Deren Coke Gallery, fea­tures other mod­els and lots of sketches, the ear­li­est one a draw­ing of the Río Grande Val­ley dat­ing to 1961.

Pre­dock’s re­cent water­color draw­ings of Gala­pa­gos, New Zealand, and the Al­bu­querque es­carp­ment show great range, emo­tion­ally, and they sim­plify forms in a way that is rem­i­nis­cent of Chi­nese land­scape paint­ing.

“I think draw­ing is like work­ing in clay; it’s sort of the same thing,” he said. “There’s an in­ner im­pulse to cre­ate a mark. I call it the ‘in­no­cent mark.’ And if you do it right and you have the sort of ab­sence of au­thor­ship to let the mark take author­ity on its own, some­thing spe­cial can hap­pen.”

An­toine Pre­dock: Giza, Egypt, water­color

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