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          Front Page




The Look of UNM's Buildings Has Slowly Changed Over the Years

By Martin Salazar
Journal Staff Writer
    The University of New Mexico's identity is wrapped up in the romantic Spanish-Pueblo Revival architecture that has become its signature over the last century.
    Just look at its logo, a red circle rising behind a pueblo-style tower.
    But while the Mesa Vista Hall tower remains the university's official emblem, the face of this institution has been changing slowly over the years, its romantic style giving way to modernism's crisp concrete and glass.

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The new architecture building, seen here next to the UNM entrance on Central and Cornell, anchors the university's pedestrian gateway.

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Students walk past Zimmerman Library, one of the university's crown jewels.

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A student heads to class in front of UNM Scholes Hall, another one of the university's crown jewels.

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UNM's Hodgin Hall as it looked in 1902.

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Hodgin Hall on the campus of the University of New Mexico as it appears today.

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An old adobe structure at the UNM entrance near University and Martin Luther King Jr. contrasts with the modern design of one of the engineering buildings under construction.


    The latest example has prominently set up shop on Central Avenue, across the street from Frontier Restaurant. George Pearl Hall— Antoine Predock's new impressive School of Architecture and Planning building— anchors the university's pedestrian gateway.
    Pearl Hall's stocky four-story stature both impresses and overwhelms.
    Its boldness competes for attention with the esteemed Zimmerman Library and Scholes Hall, the university's crown jewels that have been wowing campus visitors for 70 years.
    Predock's building also calls out, refusing to fade into the background of all the other flat roofed, earth-colored structures that populate this unique campus. It's a massive building with large expanses of glass, giving passers-by the ability to peer into its exposed guts.
    Its straight lines and sections of concrete that seemingly float with no support contrast with the balconies, parapets and ornamentations that grace the university's signature buildings.
    Danny Hernandez, president of the University Heights Association, said he has yet to meet anybody— UNM employees excluded— who has something positive to say about the new architecture building.
    "Outside, I think it's ugly," Hernandez said. "It's just stark, modernistic. I'm not an architect, but I talk to architects. We've stood at Frontier and looked at it, and none of them like it."
    "I don't see any Pueblo Revival in that building," he added.
    Chris Wilson, a member of the university's architecture faculty, defends the building, calling its architect a creative genius.
    For Wilson, the play of concrete and glass is evocative of pueblo ruins, or the edge of a sandstone canyon eroded by time.
    But what would William Tight, the father of UNM's architectural style, think about the evolution of his campus over the last century?
    "I think Tight would approve of what the university has done in terms of maintaining his vision," UNM archivist Terry Gugliotta said.
    Tight— UNM president from 1901 to 1909— brought the Spanish-Pueblo Revival style to a fledgling UNM during his presidency.
    UNM was founded by the Legislature in 1889. The university's original architectural style was Richardsonian Romanesque. Hodgin Hall, the first building constructed at UNM, was a four-story, red brick structure with a roof that was pitched on all four sides.
    "Tight basically said, 'We're in New Mexico. We need something that's more appropriate...,' '' Wilson said.
    Hodgin Hall's roof was lopped off, a corner of the building was notched out to give it a stepping profile, its brick was stuccoed over to give the impression of adobe, and a Spanish mission balcony facade was added.
    Besides Hodgin Hall, the first generation of Spanish-Pueblo buildings at UNM included the "Estufa," a small adobe kiva structure that Tight and students built near what is now University and Martin Luther King.
    "It gives me chills to think that this, Tight's first experiment with adobe architecture is still standing today...," Gugliotta said. "This building is truly the birth of the university's unique architectural style and should be the symbol of who we are."
    If Tight was instrumental in bringing Spanish-Pueblo to UNM, architect John Gaw Meem is largely credited with developing the second generation of Spanish-Pueblo style buildings that UNM is known for today. He was the architect behind Scholes Hall and Zimmerman Library.
    Meem became the university's architect in 1934. He and his partners designed a number of UNM buildings until 1959. Scholes Hall was the first UNM building designed by Meem, though he considered Zimmerman his masterpiece.
    Meem introduced modern elements, like mixing wood detailing with exposed concrete.
    His early UNM buildings are sculptural, massive and undulating, Wilson said. The towers have openings, but they appear to have been punched into a solid mass.
    "(Meem was) firmly convinced of the importance of being grounded where you are and of cultivating regional traditions and social continuity, but at the same time being thoroughly modern," Wilson said.
    The first major construction project at UNM after Meem's tenure was the College of Education complex, a cluster of eight buildings that didn't pretend to be adobe. While Meem was subtle in his integration of modern elements to his design, the College of Education 1960s buildings feature steel and glass curtain walls.
    However, the Board of Regents officially adopted Pueblo Revival as the architectural style of its main campus. And in 2004, the university's foundation was awarded a $120,000 Campus Heritage Grant to prepare a conservation plan.
    The campus Historic Preservation Committee is close to issuing its report, which argues against having new buildings imitate the university's landmarks.
    "New development and architectural design should not mimic the architecture of John Gaw Meem or Miles Britelle, which would create a false sense of history...," a preliminary report states.
    Wilson, a member of the committee, said he thinks it would be a mistake to mandate that all UNM buildings look like Meems'.
    "I think we need to understand more fully what it is that made the Meem buildings great, how people have grappled with it and what the essences are and not ask architects to repeat Meem, but ask them to understand and respect the essences," Wilson said.