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One-on-One with Antoine Predock

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — He was born in the Midwest, and raised there too.

But ask renowned architect Antoine Predock where he’s from, and he will tell you Albuquerque.

“I don’t count Missouri where I was born. I’m from here,” Predock says from his Duke City office, where parked motorcycles share space with elaborate 3-D models of the San Diego Padres ballpark and the other stadiums, museums and libraries he’s designed around the world.

Predock developed an appreciation for the Southwest during high-school summer trips to visit his aunt and uncle in Nogales, Ariz. When it was time for college, he headed to University of New Mexico.

In some ways, Albuquerque felt foreign. He still laughs at the memory of waking up in his room at the campus’ Mesa Vista dormitory to discover that a nighttime spring storm had blown right through his open window.

“The room is covered in dust except for where my head had been on the pillow,” he recalls. “I remember thinking basically ‘WTF? What am I doing here? What is this? Wow.'”

But it didn’t take long before he was totally, completely enamored.

“The grandeur of New Mexico, the power of New Mexico began to seep into me like it has with so many who weren’t born here and, finally, it just became ‘Hey, where is your spiritual home?'” he says. “New Mexico.”

Predock has spent decades traversing the globe for his work. He’s had to add extra pages to his passport, which he says is “now the thickness of about four passports.” He has a particular affinity for China and Italy and scuba-diving hotspots like the Maldives.

Yet New Mexico – with its compelling geology, rich culture and, yes, dust – has always been one of his home bases.

New Mexico is certainly where he found his calling.

Predock came to UNM to study engineering – and to eventually follow in the professional footsteps of his father – when a required drawing class taught by architecture professor Don Schlegel piqued his interest. He had no concept of what architecture was at the time, but the course stirred something inside of him.

A few years later, unfulfilled by his engineering curriculum, he took an aptitude test that revealed he had leanings toward the architecture field.

He quickly course-corrected. Mechanical engineering was out, and architecture was in. His father told him it was a mistake and that he would not support such studies.

“He didn’t do it in a mean way, because he was generous before. But that was his deal. To him, that was like a wild card, dumbass thing to do when I was that far along and I was doing well. But I did it,” Predock recalls. “I land in Don Schlegel’s design class first semester in architecture, and it was like your first love. Like that.”

He pursued architecture at UNM – which hadn’t yet established its school of architecture – taking multiple art courses along the way. He finished his degree at Columbia University, learning in the “incredible laboratory” of New York City. Travels to see the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Kahn further inspired him, as did a fellowship year in Spain. He later landed an internship that took him to San Francisco in the 1960s, where he says he developed “an inner spiritual awareness.”

“And I can’t say much more than that – and it wasn’t from drugs, OK, although a lot of other people got it that way,” he says with a chuckle.

He eventually returned to Albuquerque and quickly made a name for himself when his first solo project – the La Luz townhome community – garnered international interest. The attention, he says “was crazy, out of nowhere. … After that, I just kind of kept going.”

He still cites La Luz as one of his signature achievements, alongside the showstopping “Venice House” in Southern California; Petco Park stadium in San Diego; and a lakefront “gateway” center for a new community in Chengdu, China.

“The culmination – if there is a career culmination – is really the museum for human rights in Winnipeg,” Predock says.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is set to open next year. With a rounded form from which “roots” extend toward the ground and a “Tower of Hope” emerges, the museum would be an arresting addition to any skyline.

Predock likes his work to reflect its natural surroundings and tell a story.

He also doesn’t mind a little shock value, citing his design for the United Blood Services building on University Avenue that raised eyebrows around Albuquerque with its blood-red exterior paint.

“A lot of things I do freak people out,” he says. “… I don’t think you’re doing your work as an artist if you don’t freak people out fairly regularly.”

Q: Your dad was an engineer, but what about your mom?

A: My mom was a very enlightened woman, I thought and still do. She was a schoolteacher. … I remember she read me poetry – like adult poetry, not kiddie books. I had the Babar kiddie books and all that for sure, I had all those, but she read me poetry. She taught me “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem. I could sing it in French and I still can. And this was when I was 4 or 5. She was that side; that’s the poetic side that she had and revealed to me. My dad was more the pragmatic side, get-it-done, nuts and bolts, little emotion.

Q: Is there any building or house in Albuquerque that always captures your attention or has always been interesting to you?

A: I like Hodgin Hall at UNM, and I like the old motels. … (Hodgin’s) a fake pueblo building like everything else up here, but its geometry really interests me: more angular, it doesn’t have all the fake erosion and all that stuff that most buildings have in Santa Fe and wherever. It was the original building (at UNM). In fact, I think it’s a brick building in adobe drag. (laughs) I’m pretty sure it is.

Q: What do you do when you’re stuck creatively?

A: Ride it out. … I think if you have a belief system that is rock solid, you know that you’re going to emerge from that. For me, when it happens when a process is going on, I make the process continue because I notice when I start working with my hands – like with clay or drawing – something else takes over. It’s kind of mysterious. It’s not my head any more calling the shots. So the best thing for me is to either do aerobic exercise or just get to work even though you don’t really think there’s anything going on. Start something, start somewhere with your hands.

Q: How often do you get back to the places you built and get to go inside once they’re in use?

A: Not that often, because I’m usually moving onto the next one, but of course any time I’m passing through. I designed Austin City Hall and I was just in Austin for the MotoGP races … so I went by city hall. I return to projects with some trepidation because they can get screwed up behind your back. (Laughs) I have to kind of let go of them and know anything can happen. But it’s perfect. I know the city really loves the building. They really treasure it. And any time I can go to a Padres ball game of course, (I) sit up in the owners’ box. I get a lifetime pass to get in, and I love that.

Q: What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?

A: This woman in Phoenix … said “I went to your building at Tempe, the Nelson Fine Arts Center, and I got this ‘feeling’ there. It was really powerful. Is that something you did or tried to do?” (Laughs.) I thought, “No, I didn’t try to do it, but, man, if you got that feeling.” She couldn’t describe it, (saying) “There’s something I get here,” you know, beyond the obvious visual stuff.

Q: What would you do if you had an extra hour every day?

A: A combination of stretching and aerobic activity.

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