As students filtered toward the exit of the Downtown Albuquerque studio on a recent weeknight, the property’s famed former owner met them near the door.
He signed their books. He took pictures with them. He encouraged them to keep coming back.
“Great seeing you guys,” Antoine Predock told the undergraduate architecture class as it left the University of New Mexico’s newly developed Predock Center for Design and Research. “This is your center now. Come hang out here. Use it. Seriously.”
A renowned architect and longtime Albuquerque dweller, Predock recently donated the Downtown property where he once lived and practiced to UNM – the school that helped turn the once-budding engineer into an artist.
In the more than 60 years since he matriculated at UNM, Predock has designed projects all over the world, from residences and resorts to the San Diego Padres’ stadium and the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.
But he has maintained ties to UNM, even designing the building that houses its School of Architecture and Planning.
So when his wife, Constance DeJong, urged him to find a forever home for the myriad models, sketches and the other physical manifestations of his design process – a collection he estimates at 10,000 pieces – he chose to give his archives to UNM’s Center for Southwest Research.
“My wife kept bugging me, ‘Hey, man, when you die, where is this going to go?’ ” recalled Predock, explaining it as an easy call. “I thought, what is my spiritual home? New Mexico – period. No-brainer.”
More recently, the couple also gifted the residence and studio space to the architecture school in order to develop the new center.
The property will likely coalesce into space for student studios and as a showcase for the Predock archives, according to School of Architecture and Planning Dean Geraldine Forbes Isais, though it remains a work in progress.
Forbes Isais said the property’s buildings need at least $1 million in upgrades – the original home is more than a century old – to prepare them for formal university use. They will require even more to carry out the grander vision of a fully functioning modern workspace and research center.
“I want students to walk in there and just be bowled over by the sense of the place,” she said. “I want them to leave that studio not just inspired, but much better at their craft than when they walked in that studio. I want their imagination to be opened up to possibilities that they would not have been privy to prior to walking in there.”
It was a drawing class taught by UNM architecture professor Don Schlegel that helped open Predock’s own mind to new possibilities, laying the foundation for his shift away from engineering studies and toward architecture. He ultimately finished his degree at Columbia University and launched his own practice, operating from offices in Albuquerque and Los Angeles.
He developed an international reputation for buildings that fellow architect Thomas S. Howorth – in nominating Predock for the American Institute of Architects’ 2006 gold medal – said “grow out of their unique landscapes, creating, at the same time, symbols that are fearlessly expressive and sincere, simultaneously complex and guileless.”
Predock, still active and fit at age 81, continues to practice. He is finishing a condominium tower in Taipei and working on a house in Provence – a “tough assignment,” he deadpans.
He continues to call Albuquerque home and has remained a fixture at the new center bearing his name. The Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture convened for a conference in Albuquerque last month, holding a reception at the center, and Predock gave the keynote address to a crowd that included academic officials from around the United States, Canada, Mexico and Europe.
And as undergraduates filtered through on a recent class visit, he relished the chance to talk shop among the expansive three-dimensional models, pastel illustrations and project photographs that still fill many rooms and hang from the walls. An avid motorcycle rider, some of his bikes are still in place, too.
“I eat it up,” he said of the interactions he has with aspiring architects.
Forbes Isais wants to keep that dialogue going. She said fundraising has begun to cover the building improvements needed to make it available for regular activities.
“We want this to be an active research center, particularly since Antoine is here and willing to work on it and inspire students, because he’s so inspirational. … He’s infectious, and it’s not a bad thing for students to see someone who found their calling in life and made it their life,” she said.
Jacqueline Smith, one of UNM’s undergraduate architecture students, said Predock has “celebrity” status around UNM and has demonstrated the possibilities that exist in the field.
“If I were to end up somewhere half as creative as this, then I would be very lucky,” she said as she left the center. “And the fact that it’s here in New Mexico and he was here and we have access to it is great.”