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Bart Prince on Cover of Digest's Great Design Issue

By Dan Mayfield
Of the Journal
    You crest a hill off a dirt road far out in Rio Rancho— pitted just enough that it makes the CD player skip— and there it is.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

    There, in a sea of brown stucco boxes with xeriscaped front yards, is a beast. A big, white, floating, slithering beast of a house.
    It's like a contrail landed in Rio Rancho— with an attached two-car garage.
    The house is one of Albuquerque star architect Bart Prince's newest creations. Like Prince's other serpentine homes and buildings— the Spaceship or the Ram's Head— it looks out of place, yet, not.
    This month, the house— which was completed in 2002— is getting some extra attention. It was placed on the cover of Architectural Digest's annual The Great Design Issue, a special issue of the best in design.
    "What we do is cultivate our AD (Architectural Digest) 100, and ask them to collect their favorite things," said James Humphrey, senior manager of media relations for Architectural Digest.
    The house is featured along with design icons like Ferraris, Hermes watches and the Wassily Chair.
    "A lot of architects are going to do pretty things," Prince said. "I don't want to do things that are imitative of other things."
    The Snake house is less pretty and more chic.
    The idea, Prince said, was to make the house long— to stretch it. It's owner wanted a place that would require getting up and traveling about it just to visit the kitchen— the opposite of a box.
    Even though the whole house is the length of a football field, it's 3,000 square feet and has just two bedrooms.
    "The biggest part is in the center— that's what the client wanted— which combines a sunken living area, kitchen, dining and all-purpose area," Prince said.
    Unlike in other homes where, when you look out a window you see your neighbor's house, in this case, Prince wanted you to see the rest of the house and the landscape.
    The whole beast is raised one story in the air on 11 metal trestles, giving an impressive view of the city lights below and the Sandias to the east.
    The garage is the only part of the home that touches the ground.
    "It's a nice high-desert site there that I thought would be nice to leave alone— leave it there with its nice vegetation," Prince said. "The owner was interested in being up a little bit for security and also privacy."
    Architectural Digest, Prince said, contacted him about putting the house on the cover.
    The magazine has been following his work for years, and in 2001, a house he built in Ohio was on the cover.
    Already, he said, the magazine is looking at featuring his next home, the Spider or Pyramid house, which is being built in the Far Northeast Heights.
    Names aside— Prince never names a building— the new home is a dream house for Dan Scherger and Suzanne Kolberg. (The houses' names aren't formal and usually come from the owners or neighbors.)
    "You can't miss it, trust me," Kolberg said.
    "We live in a box. We have a lovely box. If we wanted a box, we would've stayed here," she said. "We didn't want a box."
    However, the new house— which is expected to be finished late this year after two years of construction— is a bit tamer than many previous Bart Prince houses.
    "I don't know what the protocol is, but it seems normal to me— closets, doors, windows," Kolberg said.
    But it's undeniably a Prince.
    "This one," Prince said, "blends into the mountain. Each design is made for the individual client and site, so that I don't have any particular style."
    Of course it's not easy building a unorthodox house in developments that want to see stucco boxes, Prince said.
    Kolberg and Scherger had a row with the neighborhood association to build the thing.
    "Their immediate reaction was 'No,' '' Kolberg said.
    Prince's reputation for building outlandish homes preceded him.
    "It just took a while to convince people that it wasn't going to be another Spaceship," Kolberg said.

KNME-TV, Channel 5, will air a repeat of its Arts Alliance 20th anniversary Bravos Awards, honoring artists who have made a significant contribution to Albuquerque, including architect Bart Prince, today at 2 p.m.