his own best authority

Three masters of architecture and their influence on Southwestern design

If you’ve ever seen an example of Bart Prince’s architecture in person—which isn’t hard to do in New Mexico as there are residences located in Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, Jemez Springs, and Galisteo—you probably slowed your car and pointed it out to your companions. They are one-of-a-kind.

Updated in 2010, The Architecture of Bart Prince: A Pragmatics of Place includes five additional houses that illustrate Prince’s growth since the 1999 first edition. More than half the book’s pages are filled with detailed renderings and full-color photos of unique homes in Hawaii, Ohio, California, Idaho, and of course New Mexico, all designed by the Albuquerque native whom many consider to be one of the most creative American architects in the field today.

Prince’s style deviates drastically from traditional Southwestern rectangular, flat-roofed, adobe buildings. Author Christopher Curtis Mead describes his own home, which was designed by Prince in 1992–1993, as a notable contrast to Pueblo style, “freed from the regional adoboid idiom” while still sampling from popular Southwestern building materials such as concrete block, stucco, and sheet metal. These materials serve to protect from and blend with the elements, keeping the design appropriate to the regional environment while speaking to the larger architectural context.

The author delves into the fourth-generation New Mexican’s ancestry to demonstrate how the family history guided the architect’s sense of self. A personal friend of Prince’s immediate family, Mead interviewed his parents who shared family photos and stories. His mother recounts the young Prince’s inclinations to build architectural models, relaying a memory of her son “dismembering her pantsuit in order to upholster the floors and walls of a model with its bouclé fabric.”

As a student at Arizona State University in Tempe in 1968, Prince met architect and visiting presenter Bruce Goff, who would become his most significant mentor and, later, a collaborator. Other early influences include Frank Lloyd Wright, Lloyd Wright, and John Lautner, but “Prince stands apart from even those architects to whom he is most indebted,” says Mead.
Despite his buildings’ most unusual sculptural shapes, Prince is known for designing homes that harmonize with their surroundings while functionally serving the owners’ needs. The overarching vision for his creations is “less about leaving the world behind than it is about that American preoccupation with finding an ideal middle ground between wilderness and civilization, nature and culture.”

Ultimately, the author encourages anyone intrigued by Prince to see his creations for themselves, something that Prince fans living in or visiting New Mexico can easily do.—by Cristina Olds

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959) was not only one of America’s most important architects, but also a prolific orator and author of 20 books and numerous essays. Frank Lloyd Wright: Essential Texts, a compilation of 21 of Wright’s literary works offers readers a comprehensive overview of his philosophies from 1900 to the late 1940s.

The selections were carefully chosen by historian Robert Twombly, author of Frank Lloyd Wright: His Life and His Architecture, who acknowledges the extensive number of books already written about Wright and his long career. But, Twombly says, the previous texts were “user-unfriendly. . . . The objective here is to bring together Wright’s most important statements in chronological order so that students of architecture may trace the evolution and maturation of his design philosophy.”

Wright, who didn’t finish high school, landed a job at an architectural office to help the family finances when his parents divorced in 1885. Soon he was working with mentor Louis Sullivan, eulogized by Wright in the collection as “beloved master.” With Sullivan, Wright developed his drafting skills as well as his confidence while working on the Chicago Auditorium Building and other notable projects of the day.

After a disagreement with Sullivan in 1893, however, Wright was fired and immediately opened his own studio, developing his experimental Prairie-style houses—150 were built during the next eight years. The book includes Wright’s first published public lecture at the Architectural League of America meeting in 1900, in which he critiques his profession’s commercialization and encourages young architects to develop something distinctly American, like what he was doing with his Prairie homes.

Wright’s 1908 definitive essay “In the Cause of Architecture” outlines the unique characteristics of his developing concept of organic architecture. This theory—that structures should appear to grow naturally out of the surroundings—would be a topic he would ardently expound upon over his lifetime.

During this time, Wright “was well reviewed and received; he was much in demand as a speaker and essayist; and he established a national reputation,” says Twombly, but that reputation would soon change, to be marked by personal scandal and tragedy Wright would be unable to fully shake.

In 1909, Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney left behind their spouses and numerous children to pursue their affair. The couple was socially ostracized, and Wright’s commissions suffered. Further drama occurred in 1911 when Taliesin, Wright’s Spring Green, Wisconsin, residence, was set on fire by a workman who brutally murdered Borthwick and six others. For 14 years after Borthwick’s death, Wright struggled in his relationships and his career; his writing style and his tone changed after these significant life events, and he wrote of loss of faith in his profession.

Nevertheless, Wright worked until his death in 1959, with the last decade and a half being some of his most productive years. The last speech in the collection is his acceptance of the American Institute of Architects’ gold medal in 1949, wherein he reiterates the challenge to his colleagues to think independently and touts organic architecture as a guiding principle.

“. . . His idiosyncratic prose suggests a form of self-centeredness,” Twombly notes. “One wonders whether he had decided that he was his own best authority.”.—by Cristina Olds

One of New Mexico’s most significant Santa Fe–style architects, John Gaw Meem (1894–1933), was actually born in Brazil. In the first of three parts of Facing Southwest: The Life & Houses of John Gaw Meem, we learn that Meem’s American Episcopal missionary father and German-Brazilian mother sent the 16-year-old to school in the U.S. at the Virginia Military Institute, where he earned a B.S. in engineering by the age of 19.

After serving in WWI as a captain in the U.S. Army, Meem contracted tuberculosis, which landed him at Santa Fe’s Sunmount Sanitarium for recovery treatment in 1921. Sunmount, itself an early example of Santa Fe–style architecture, proved to be hugely influential in Meem’s life, along with the many renowned artistic residents he met there. After an intense internship in Denver threatened his health, Meem returned to Sunmount in 1924 and opened an architectural practice with fellow patient Cassius McCormick.

Local businesses and the Museum of New Mexico in 1912 were focusing on increasing the state’s tourist appeal, which spurred an architectural movement influenced by Spanish- and Mexican-style buildings and Native American pueblos. As one of his significant projects in 1927, Meem designed a major addition for La Fonda Hotel that is still standing today.

“. . . Meem brought Santa Fe style to maturity,” the author says. “By calming the overly picturesque details and compositions of the style as practiced before his arrival in 1920, and instead emphasizing the sculptural massiveness of adobe, Meem imbued Santa Fe style with a dignified monumentality.”

Part two of the book details recurring architectural features the author calls “design patterns” that Meem included in his body of work. Known for his entry paths, salas and living rooms, alcoves and window seats, fireplaces, doors, porches, terraces, and more, Meem leaned on these design patterns for consistency throughout his regional architecture.

The book’s many photos illustrate Meem’s signature designs and formative styles as demonstrated throughout entire homes. “Although informed by Pueblo, Spanish, Beaux-Arts, and picturesque eclectic traditions, Meem’s use of precedent was never slavish,” the author notes. In the third part of the book, three of Meem’s design idioms are examined via three iconic residences located in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. The Conkey residence (1926) epitomized Spanish-Pueblo Revival; Los Poblanos Ranch (1932–1935) and its entertainment center, La Quinta, exemplified Territorial Revival; and Meem’s own home (1937), located near the Sunmount Sanitarium, captured his modernist interests with a new Southwestern contemporary look.—by Cristina Olds