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Quarrel over metal cage at UNM building resolved, move planned

A large metal cage sits in the open space under George Pearl Hall's "suspension bridge." It houses a potentially dangerous piece of machinery that will be moved soon to a permanent enclosure behind the University of New Mexico building.
A large metal cage sits in the open space under George Pearl Hall's "suspension bridge." It houses a potentially dangerous piece of machinery that will be moved soon to a permanent enclosure behind the University of New Mexico building.
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A quarrel over a large metal cage that was placed under the focal point of a University of New Mexico building has been resolved, apparently to everyone’s satisfaction – but with a few bruised feelings.

The cage at the center of a yearlong kerfuffle is a room-sized enclosure that sits, temporarily, under the “suspension bridge” opening of George Pearl Hall, home of UNM’s School of Architecture and Planning.

The campus building, which overlooks Central Avenue, was designed by renowned Albuquerque architect Antoine Predock, who said he “fought tooth and nail” to retain the bridge when it was under construction. Studios are suspended from the bridge.

Predock said he noticed the cage about 18 months ago and instantly saw it as a glaring eyesore that takes up much of the space beneath the bridge.

This month, the online journal Architectural Record – in an article titled “Architects, Watch Your Backs” – quoted Predock as saying on Facebook that the cage “trivializes all the work we did in suspending the studios from the massive trusses above.”

The publication says Predock asked Geraldine Forbes Isais, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning, to remove the cage. He then went on Facebook to publicly air his objections.

But Isais said last week Predock knew beforehand that the cage would be placed under the bridge, that it was temporary and that he even approved the design for a new enclosure.

“We contacted Antoine before the cage was placed under there, and told him that we needed this equipment and the space to house it,” Isais said. “He sent out his right-hand person to work on the design (for the new enclosure). He knew what we were doing and that it would be temporary.”

The cage houses a Computer Numerically Controlled plasma cutter, a machine that uses inert gas and an electrical arc to make precision cuts in steel and other metals.

“If it can cut steel, it could really hurt somebody,” Isais said.

After considering other locations, school officials decided the spot under the Pearl Hall bridge would be the “least offensive, most protected, and safest” location, Isais said.

It also took time to raise money for a permanent home for the plasma cutter, she said. Fortunately, the school was able to find donors – Kira Sowanick and Tony Baca, owners of Southwest Glass and Glazing – who provided more than $52,000 for the new structure.

It will be built behind Pearl Hall on a patio. Construction is expected to begin in a week or two.

So everyone is happy. Almost.

“We love our building and respect Antoine,” Isais said. “We only wish he would’ve treated us with the same respect.”

Predock did not respond to requests for comment on Isais’ criticisms. Previously, however, he said through an aide that, “The cage is being removed. There is no spat.”

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