AIA Honor Awards: Antoine Predock

To draw inspiration for his buildings, this Albuquerque-based architect looks to ancient Anasazi Indian masonry

Like his buildings, Antoine Predock has always strived to both fit in and stand out. Riding one of his vintage motorcycles on a dusty back road or skiing a deep-powder mountain trail, he cuts a maverick figure — the lone man set within and against a backdrop of rugged, natural beauty. His buildings too want to have it both ways: to be part of the landscape, yet also attractions within it. At their best, Predock and his architecture pull off this neat balancing act with a sense of formal daring and a deference to context.

On the wall behind the reception desk in his studio in Albuquerque, two large, black-and-white photographs of Chaco Canyon and the Pueblo Bonito ruins anchor a collection of drawings and images of Predock's own work. The impressive masonry structures built by the Anasazi Indians between 850 and 1150 serve as touchstones for Predock's architecture: assemblages of iconic elements (circular kivas, cubic houses, thick walls) that seem to have grown out of their high-desert sites. Predock's buildings share the same architectural DNA, manifesting function as a series of recurring forms (cones, pyramids, boxes) that have become a design vocabulary both universal and intensely personal.

Standing along one wall of the main studio building, a line of classic motorcycles expresses Predock's fascination with motion. "Architecture is a ride," he asserts, "a physical ride and an intellectual ride." Born in Lebanon, Missouri, in 1936, he moved to the Southwest to attend the University of New Mexico. Studying mechanical engineering, he took summer jobs working for the aviation industry around Albuquerque. "I like to think about machines and technology in relation to landscape and architecture," he says. While taking an architecture class taught by Don Schlagel, Predock decided to leave engineering. "Schlagel became my mentor, showing me what architecture could be."

Photo: Robert Reck

Schlagel also encouraged him to look beyond New Mexico. Although he had never been east of the Mississippi, Predock moved to New York and enrolled at Columbia University, where he hung out with dancers and watched performances by Merce Cunningham and John Cage. At Columbia, he met Jennifer Linnell, a dancer who became his first wife and muse. Watching her dance and eventually collaborating with her on performances, he learned about the human body in motion through space. "My buildings are processional," states Predock. "Watching Jennifer, I started thinking about the choreography of architecture."

After graduating, Predock and Linnell moved to Albuquerque and set up a small compound where they lived and each had a studio. Over the years, that compound grew in an ad hoc, opportunistic way, as if it were a physical expression of Cage's theories of chance and encounter. "We wanted to create a place that was inclusive of many disciplines and broke down borders between living and working," says the architect. Although Predock and Linnell are no longer together and neither lives at the walled compound, it remains the architect's studio, sprawling over a cluster of small buildings that are connected by rough-sawn-fir canopies and brick-paved courtyards dotted with cottonwood trees. Today, Predock is married to Constance DeJong, a sculptor with whom he has collaborated on projects such as the Minnesota Gateway Landmark, a folded-Cor-Ten monument adjacent to Predock's Minnesota Gateway building at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Starting with La Luz Community, an artificial escarpment of town houses built in 1970 on a mesa along the Rio Grande River in Albuquerque, Predock's work has addressed the issue of place. Because La Luz employs adobe construction and appears as an integral part of its landscape, Predock quickly developed a reputation as an architect wedded to his home turf. Everyone thought of him as a regional architect.

While this helped him establish an identity distinct from other Modernists, it also became a straight jacket from which he has worked hard to break free.

Subsequent projects, such as the Rio Grande Nature Center in Albuquerque (1982) and the Nelson Fine Arts Center at Arizona State University in Tempe (1989), again fused strong connections with their particular sites — the nature center acting as a concrete viewing blind nestled in a wildfowl habitat, and the art center forming a surrogate mountain range of stepped buildings, masonry terraces, and cool, cavelike spaces.

Predock often likens his notions of place to a road cut that exposes many layers of influences, from deep bedrock and ancient artifacts to newer accretions of asphalt and structure. "I try to understand place on a deeper level than just the physical or environmental aspects," he explains. "It includes cultural and intellectual forces, too. It's an inclusive approach that brings in many disciplines and sees place as a dynamic thing."

While New Mexico has helped shape Predock's concept of place, he doesn't see it limiting his architecture. "The lessons I've learned here about responding to the forces of a place can be implemented anywhere," he says. "I don't have to invent a new methodology for new contexts. It is as if New Mexico has already prepared me."

Predock's design process begins with research and sketches that get combined into a large, often scroll-like collage created by him and his project team. Then his staff assembles cardboard blocks for each functional element in the program, and he uses these to make a clay model of the project. Carving and cutting the clay, Predock starts shaping the design, working much as a sculptor does. Then his team photographs the model with a digital camera and uses these images to create digital drawings and models. "The computer has allowed the process to become way richer, more complex," he states.

Predock currently has about 20 active projects going in his main office in Albuquerque and satellites in Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Taipei, Taiwan. Like every architect, he has some favorite projects that never got built, including an ecologically sensitive resort in Morocco and a 3,500-room hotel and casino in Las Vegas that would have used Plato's Atlantis as its theme. Although he doesn't enter many competitions, he won two international ones in the past two years: for a southern branch of the National Palace Museum in Taiwan, and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. Both of these projects are moving forward and promise to be major additions to his body of work. As he has throughout his career, Predock mines his fascination with geology, landscape, and culture in these designs.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Winnipeg, 2009

Now 70, he shows no signs of slowing down. He currently has about 20 active projects and 35 people working in Albuquerque and smaller outposts in Indiana, Los Angeles, and Taipei, Taiwan. In the past year and a half, he has won two international design competitions: one for a branch of the National Palace Museum in Taibo City, Taiwan, and the other for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg.

For his National Palace Museum entry, he created a 22-foot-long collage scroll depicting his building as an abstracted landscape. The building has a marble base, a soaring central space that he likens to a jade mountain, and bronze-clad galleries spiraling around the central hall and connected by ribbonlike bridges. "As a gringo architect, I wasn't going to make a Chinese building or do a Chinese garden," he says. But he used water, stone, and an episodic approach to space, which refer in a modern way to Chinese building traditions. His design for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights calls for a pile of stone galleries wrapped by a glass cloud.