A Modern Edge

Date December 21, 2007 at 11:00 PM

Categories Real Estate


Formalist architects refine the art of straight lines

Michael Bauer: A Taos Hacienda

Site-implying expanse and boundary, risk and opportunity-speaks in one loud syllable to the formal challenges that architect Michael Bauer faced in designing a new Taos house for a transplanted New York couple. The form reads as a sequence of gradient horizons expressed in the architecture to fit the structure into its stupendous site. Long walls thatmake the house's enclosure also cause it to appear to be stretching out its long arms to measure the view's spans. "One side is mountains,"€ says Bauer, "the other a massive sagebrush plain-so massive that on a clear day the view can run to 75 miles. The house sits on the point of mediation."€ With the Rio Grande to the west and El Salto Mountain to the east, Bauer dealt with the bifurcation by orienting the form along a nontraditional east-west axis. Mediating, too, between site and subdivision requirements called for the house to be slipped behind an earthen berm. The berm tucks into the massive front wall of the house-a nearly one-hundred-foot expanse of thick adobe, broken by the Asian touch of lattice-like, sliding wooden doors. Yet this near-and-far-wall sequence effectively creates another false horizon in that, while it brings the solid of the house slap up to one's attention, it simultaneously compels the eye outside and onto the long western view-a color-field phenomenon of pale sky meeting plains of sagebrush-dotted earth. Push and pull between house and landscape is a significant design element. These long walls give the house the feeling of a citadel. This is a clear echo of the dwelling's inspiration: Taos's fabled Martinez Hacienda. "From the outside,"€ says Bauer, "the Hacienda looks like a fortress, but inside it's not one solid construction, rather, a series of buildings linked by courtyards and light. It's as if the whole design was driven by the sun."€ And so it is with this new hacienda. The house is technically a main house at one end and a guesthouse (where an elderly parent lives) at the other. Despite its solidity, it gets a feeling of lightness from the gestural breezeway, which, more than 60 feet long, connects and inscribes viewlines between each of the dwellings' front doors. In the main house, the airiness of the space seems to flow fromroomto room-an effect achieved through a continuity inmaterials. All floors are burnished concrete; all ceilings high, beamed, and rimmed by skylights. Since the skylights run the length of the house, the whole of the ceiling appears to float. The overall effect is a blurring of boundaries, a difficulty in distinguishing outdoors from indoors.

Bauer, who has said that he admires Frank Lloyd Wright, may have been thinking a bit about the way Taliesen West sits on its site in Phoenix-with a hard edge that puts the city at a delay. Yet inside Taliesen West, high windows turn one's attention to the organics of the interior, enclosing a visitor in the shelter. Here the opposite is true: The theater of the outside is everywhere visible. Eyebrows creating portals jut over the large living space to enclosed courtyards looking east and west. The smoothness of entry to inside and exit to outside communicates the extent to which the vastness of nature influences the New Mexico psyche and cultural interpretations.

Mediating extremes using the vocabulary of modernism is clearly Bauer's angle on place.

Trey Jordan: A Santa Fe Compound

"Architecture in Santa Fe was born out of unplanned, sprawling, familial structures,"€ says Trey Jordan. "Momand Dad lived in the main house, the daughter built her house over here, the son built his over there; there wasn't any real design. Compounds evolved based on informal relationships."€ Jordan's newestmodern adobe, on Armijo Lane on Santa Fe's historic east side, pays homage to this throwback patterning.

The house-cum-compound is actually a 2,500-square-foot main house, a 1,000-square-foot guesthouse, and an empty adjoining lot. A visitor, walking in through an entryway that sets the volumes well back from the street, may have a hard time discerning where one structure ends and the next begins. Both buildings are wrapped by a series of long walkways ending in hard, right angles. The compound's hedge-maze appearance nods toward the mid-century California modernism of Richard Neutra disciple Gregory Ain. Also like Ain-and specifically Ain's famed Dunsmuir Flats-Jordan is interested in a stacked-box structure. To this end, he began his Armijo Lane construction at an odd center: A giant rectangular cantilever of thick masonry (the main bedroom) perches atop a smaller, sunken room with long spans of glass-a home gym and office. "I'minterested in this kind of dichotomy,"€ says Jordan, "the heavy form of the bedroom, sitting upon the lighter form of the glass-walled office."€

This stack of boxes corners from inside to outside with an eye on another tinge of California modern: a manicured grass courtyard. The yard's squareness, like a pod of nature inscribed between sidewalk and lot line, puts the grass at eye level for someone in the lower room. And in borrowing that bit of urban design, Jordan is acknowledging how much his preferences speak to crafting urbane lofts inside the historic context. Inside, a polished-concrete floor blends into high-shine, diamond-plastered walls for an augmentation of cool that can make the place appear, in certain light conditions, sleek-even icy. Juxtaposed with this, a span of pickled-wood cabinetry in the kitchen admits a touch of Mayberry with a sophisticated update in the hardware and flatness of the wood panels. And the positioning of walls to let the building fix a hard-edged U on its site expresses the way architecture on an infill lot can frame the surrounding environment. The best example of this framing occurs inside the main bedroom, where the height of the window hides most of the compound but utilizes the house's roofline as a second horizon, offsetting the golden roll of the Sangre de Cristo foothills-like a picture tucked within a picture tucked within a picture. It's a sculptural detail, and a telling one. "I like buildings that are sculpted, that are quiet and heavy and very still,"€ Jordan says. "I like the point where things become almost abstract."€

Enhancing that subtlety, he has painted the exteriormasonry in three slightly different shades of brown. "The hues are almost indistinguishable,"€ says the architect, "but they add this sense of pop, an extra 3-D dimension."€ And that bears out how this architect associated in Santa Fe with the shock of the new is actually a firm believer in traditions' meetings with modern interpretations.