immaculate construction

Geometry meets poetry when a first-rate architect, great builder, and terrific clients converge on a peerless site.

This article first appeared in Spring 2009 Su Casa

Few homes in Albuquerque convey such a powerful sense of arrival as the Flyway View House by architect Jon Anderson. At the end of a long lane in the near North Valley, this block and steel masterwork constructed by builder John Blueher sits at the northern boundary of the Rio Grande Nature Center. A nearly invisible wire mesh fence divides the one-acre homesite from vast grain fields planted as winter habitat for tremendous flocks of Canada geese, sandhill cranes, and other migratory waterfowl. When a visitor rolls down the dirt road and into the driveway, he has reached not just a home, a Su Casa/AIA Albuquerque award winner, but an architectural event. Trumpets should blare and the curtains rise as the overture begins.

Yet such hyperbole belies the quiet modesty of the place and of the architect who designed it. Always matter-of-fact and deflective, Anderson seems ever to eschew the role of architect as visionary artist. Yet his impressive portfolio of work includes award-winning, high-profile commercial projects like the dramatic Sandia Mini dealership along Interstate 25 in north Albuquerque and collaboration on landmark public buildings with New Mexico’s preeminent architect, Antoine Predock.

The Flyway View House clients came to Anderson by word of mouth: the son of a friend was working in Anderson’s office at the time. Though they had intended to interview several of Albuquerque’s leading residential architects—a deep talent pool—they felt instant simpatico with Anderson. The search ended before it began. The clients had this killer site where they wanted to build a modernist house, which is Anderson’s natural idiom. Anderson visited the site and developed a several-page program for the design based on his understanding of the site and his conversations with the clients. They covered things like, how many bedrooms? How do you use the other rooms? What materials do you like? Which trees must be preserved? Where are the views? Where’s the winter sun? Then he sketched (yes, by hand) a preliminary design whose informality didn’t quite suit the clients; on the second go-round, he nailed it.

The home succeeds in part because of the thoughtful detailing. For instance, Anderson’s clients didn’t want a stucco house, so Anderson specified burnished concrete block—the local manufacturer shaves the blocks to a remarkably smooth face. To insulate a block wall, Anderson developed a few strategies. The blocks’ cavities were pressure-filled with foam insulation. The insulation and the home’s passive solar design—carefully sized roof overhangs keep out the sun in the summer—work so well that the homeowners claim to have never used the backup radiant heat system, except once or twice in the bathroom.

On the inside, the block was furred out with a wood frame wall, batt insulation, and Sheetrock, all built directly against the 8-inch blocks—the 12-inch wall system rates about R-25 to R-30. Where the block walls thrust through the south glass wall to the exterior, Anderson switched to 12-inch blocks, the same thickness as the combined system inside. In an Anderson house, everything lines up. He designed the home’s dimensions around the size of the block as a baseline module.

That block face might be the first thing a visitor notices when approaching the home. From the driveway, a low wall and concrete walkway funnel people to the entry. The very opposite of grand and imposing, this entry takes the form of a glass box pushed into the living room. It establishes a transition from the outdoors to the interior without breaking the surface plane of the exterior. Inside, one immediately notices the ceiling. Anderson designed a system of acoustically dampening galvanized aluminum ceiling deck, on top of which sits rigid insulation, then wafer board, then a screwed-on standing-seam metal roof, an 8-inch system of at least R-30.

In fact, the aluminum ceiling, exposed steel framing, honed concrete block walls, commercial-style windows, and stained and saw-cut concrete floor define much of Anderson’s modernist palette. Interior designer Janis LaFountain brought in natural finishes of stone, wood, linen, and wool to complement the man-made materials of steel, aluminum, and glass. She also designed custom furnishings for the home’s contemporary aesthetic.

Stone and tile set the stage in the master bath, where marble with finely beveled edges adorns the countertop, tub surround, and floor. Anderson originally had envisioned a honed black granite theme but later agreed with LaFountain’s suggestion of marble. A Tea-for-Two tub by Kohler sits under green glass tiles by Walker Zanger in proportions recalling the block walls. The master bathroom also incorporates a shower and a dog shower.

A long cherry-veneer cabinetry wall designed by Anderson and built by Gordon Reeves divides the public rooms from the private. LaFountain selected the cabinet’s deep wood stain, which warms up the home’s interior. This cabinet includes nichos on the front and storage on the back, and its vertical joints align perfectly with the saw-cut seams in the concrete floor. Like the impeccable mortar joints in the block wall, these details match top-notch craftsmanship to the exceptional architecture. Builder John Blueher of Blueher Abodes Ltd. credits the architect’s detailed plans with enabling such immaculate construction. “You can’t hide anything in this house, when it comes to the construction: it’s so pure that the beauty is in the detail, how it’s put together.”

He praises masonry contractor Tom Overbay for carefully protecting the block during construction because messy mortar couldn’t be easily cleaned off the burnished face later. “Tom’s creativity and care made it work,” he adds.

Blueher had remodeled a previous residence for the homeowners prior to building the Flyway View House. He knows this is a special house and says the teamwork forged among architect, builder, subcontractors, and clients made it turn out so well. “Honestly, I was a little apprehensive about it,” Blueher says, “because we hadn’t done a house like this with steel, burnished block, commercial-style windows.” But Anderson had detailed the house so thoroughly in his plans and drawings, and his office was so responsive to questions raised by Blueher and his crew, led by Matthew Crocker on site, and the clients were so “terrific” that the result was something wonderful, Blueher says.

In a place like this, where the architecture competes with nature for a resident’s contemplative attention, every view seems to reward the eye.

resources for this home