An Architect for the New Age

journalism

TIME: Architecture & Design – March 11, 1988

An Architect for the New Age

From out of the Southwest rides iconoclastic Antoine Predock

Antoine Predock is just not like other major American architects. He looks like a gracefully aging tennis pro (tanned, fit, intense) and sometimes sounds like a Jungian therapist (“I get clients to explore their fantasies”). He lives in neither of the two U.S. Architect Belts (Boston-New York- Philadelphia, Los Angeles-San Diego), but in plain, out-of-the-way Albuquerque. His work is not strictly modernist or postmodernist, classical or avant-garde; the pigeonholes do not apply. Predock, a self-described “cosmic modernist” who senses the “emanations” of a particular building site and says only half jokingly that he “would rather talk about UFOs than Palladio,” is nevertheless creating a remarkable body of work — tough and sensual, fabulously imagined, altogether persuasive. He may be the first great New Age architect.

The larger world is beginning to recognize Predock’s gifts. Last year he received an Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects, and he is busy now on six large-scale public commissions, four of them the result of world-class competitions. “Almost all my new work is outside New Mexico,” Predock says. “I fly so much now, I scale my drawings for airplane tray tables.”

 Stylistically, however, Predock has been militantly Southwestern. La Luz, his clustered adobe housing development built 21 years ago in Albuquerque, was a precocious masterpiece that reinvigorated overused Indian forms. The 1985 Robinson-Burney House not far away could be a prototype for Southwestern family dwellings: a “ranch house” worthy of the name.

 Among the best of Predock’s work is the 1985 Tesuque House, built on a desert ridge overlooking the gorgeous desolation north of Santa Fe. The house, like all his finest designs, is not a monolith but a suggestive collection of smaller pieces, here a kind of lyrical single-family mountain village consisting of separate stucco boxes for living room, guest room, master bedroom and kitchen. The forms are stark, but Predock’s scheme — a casual zigzag arrangement that follows the terrain, roof lines that vary from flat to peaked to pyramidal, a restrained polychrome palette — mitigates austerity. Gravitas without menace.

 Predock’s own favorite residential work is the Fuller House, a more dramatic faux village finished two years ago in the high Sonoran Desert near Phoenix. It is more determinedly “spiritual,” portentous, even sci-fi. “I like haunted, charged spaces,” Predock explains. Inside is a polished black granite fountain from which water runs in a narrow, razor-straight canal outdoors, across a plaza and into a circular pool. There is a pavilion for watching sunrises at the east end, another for staring at sunsets in the west. The study is a stepped pyramid of volcanic stone, topped with a skylight. Yet for all the house’s risky paradox — B-movie imagery conceived with restraint and accomplished with first-rate production values — it succeeds breathtakingly. Shirley MacLaine would be happy here, but so, maybe, would Mies van der Rohe.

 Because his early interior plans are plotted out in extraordinary detail, Predock wins over big institutional clients despite his New Age enthusiasms. When he presented his design for a $24 million California State Polytechnic University Pomona project to the competition jury, for instance, he included floor-by-floor maps of the buildings’ interior ambience — a singular synthesis of engineering and intuition. On a low-rise roof at Pomona, he wants to plant grass and graze sheep. “They think I’m kidding,” says Predock. He is smiling, but he isn’t kidding.

 Predock says he talks about UFOs and “magic lines of power” mainly “to disorient myself and my colleagues so new thoughts can enter into the soup.” He is open to a wider, wilder array of ideas than any of his successful peers. Predock’s great accomplishment lies not just in deeply absorbing eclectic influences ranging from Italian hill towns to science-fiction movies, but also in rarely letting one idea overwhelm the rest. And his sensible, good old Americanism, counterbalances his spacier side. On old Route 66 at Albuquerque’s southwest edge is the Beach, a Navajo-blanket-pattern ed, neon- emblazoned apartment complex that, despite the glitz, has a strong sense of urbanity, a function of the labyrinth of outdoor stairways and corridors.

One Predock building is strikingly different from the next. In La Jolla, Calif., his university theater is to have a 27-ft.-high mirror appended to the front. And a western-memorabilia museum at the University of Wyoming will be a stone cone, suggesting a Teton or a tepee. His lack of a signature style is born of a faith in the uniqueness of each project. Predock believes that if he contemplates the client’s requirements and experiences the site intensely enough, the right building will emerge. “This is an adventure,” he explained to a couple who asked him to design a house. “It’s a poetic encounter.”