ART OF SPACE
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