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NM’s enchanting architecture gets national attention

USA Today readers across the country had a chance to feast their eyes on New Mexico’s most iconic spots this spring thanks to a novel collaboration between the nationally read newspaper and the American Institute of Architects.

A feature story in USA Today’s travel section on May 10 touted vivid images of 25 sites emblematic of the state’s diverse cultural history. The story can be seen by going to and clicking on the “Travel” tab then search for “25 must-see buildings in New Mexico.”

“This was really a fantastic opportunity,” said Jean Gibson, executive director of AIA New Mexico.

She said the newspaper and AIA National reached out to local AIA chapters nationwide to come up with a list of the top 25 buildings, monuments or gardens that visitors to their state should see. They had to share their thoughts on what made them so special.

“The criteria was primarily tourism rather than architectural excellence; what shows the true flavor of New Mexico, what should people see and appreciate when they come to this state,” Gibson said.

AIA New Mexico and local chapters in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, southern New Mexico and the New Mexico Architectural Foundation combined efforts to form a committee that conducted the selection process. They winnowed down the initial nominee list of more than 160 buildings based on criteria such as diversity of use, location in the state, role in New Mexico history and tourism. Members of the architectural organizations voted for the final selection from a shortlist of 40.

The earliest example on the list is Chaco Canyon Cultural Historic National Park in northwestern New Mexico, which was designated in 1987 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. New Mexico’s Native American culture also comes across in images of Taos Pueblo, Bandelier National Monument, the Gila Cliff Dwellings near Silver City and Acoma Pueblo.

San Francisco de Asis Mission Church, Ranchos de Taos, (COURTESY OF TRAVIS K WITT)

Churches feature prominently among the top tourism sites. There are photos of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe, the oft-photographed massive adobe buttresses of the San Francisco de Asis Mission Church in Ranchos de Taos, Santa Fe’s Loretto Chapel with its unusual spiral staircase and El Santuario de ChimayĆ³, which draws thousands of pilgrims on foot each Holy Week.

In Albuquerque, the sites include the early 20th century BNSF Railyards, which symbolize the industrial age; the spaceship-like Bart Prince house near Nob Hill; and the 1932 John Gaw Meem-designed Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm in Los Ranchos.

The most recently built sites show off New Mexico’s affinities with the arts and the sciences: Spencer Theater for the Performing Arts near Ruidoso and the Santa Fe Opera House, both from 1997, and the Spaceport America Terminal Hangar Facility near Truth or Consequences, which was completed in 2014.

Spaceport America Terminal Hanger Facility, (COURTESY OF SMPC ARCHITECTS)

New Mexico Tourism Department spokeswoman Bailey Griffith said articles like this help raise awareness about what New Mexico has to offer travelers.

“Any time a story like this brings national attention to New Mexico, it’s a great thing. Architecture is a strong motivator for travel, with adobe being something uniquely New Mexican that sets us apart from our neighboring states,” Griffith said.

The Tourism Department is currently featuring the uniquely New Mexican adobe architecture with a video called “Cured Earth” and the “Adobe Trail” web page, which is part of its New Mexico True travel promotion campaign.