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Tuesday, October 17, 2000

Everything Old is New Again

By Scott Sandlin
Journal Staff Writer
    For Pedro Marquez, who turned 40 this year, the seven-year itch has to do with a passion for architecture.
    That's how long the 13th generation New Mexican has spent on the design of the National Hispanic Cultural Center of New Mexico, and it is an understatement to say he looks forward to its realization.
    "This center is about what we have to offer. It's about expressing and celebrating cultural diversity, and this is just one aspect of it," Marquez says.
    But getting there was a long and often tortured road, and even the design process was beleaguered by controversy.
    Sometime about the end of September 1993, Marquez recalls, as he was about to open his own practice in Santa Fe, he was approached by Albuquerque-based architect Antoine Predock about teaming up to seek the design contract on the project.
    The Predock-Marquez team made the short list, along with three other renowned architects: Ricardo Legoretta of Mexico, Emilio Ambasz of Argentina and James Stewart Polshek of New York.
    "Antoine and I received the commission, proudly beating out all the carpetbaggers," says Marquez, who was born and reared in Santa Fe and whose "roots run deep." Marquez worked for Predock for two years before attending and after finishing graduate school, and his master's thesis project was the Hispanic Cultural Center.
    When the design process started, the center was planned for a different site, one near Lomas and Interstate 25.
    But both that project and the new federal courthouse, which at one time targeted the same site, were "ousted by the Martineztown neighborhood," Marquez says.
    "Predock and I did a beautiful design for that site," he says. "We ended up having to throw all that away and start all over again with the new site."
    Predock and Marquez "rolled up our sleeves," took the same wish list of needs for the center and trimmed the design substantially to fit the much smaller, 16-acre site on Bridge SW.
    They were told to ignore the fact that resident Adela Martinez didn't want to sell her land or move from her childhood home.
    "We knew Mrs. Martinez was on this land, and we were told to stay the heck out of it pretend like it was free and clear," Marquez says.
    As the years went by, Marquez says, budget constraints again shrank the building. And then Martinez, who died earlier this year, became a cause célebre. Gov. Gary Johnson decided he wouldn't force Martinez out.
    "At this point, with the state becoming very difficult with the architects, Predock decided to move on," Marquez says.
    Predock did not return a call seeking comment.
    Marquez decided he knew more about the project than anyone else and went after the bid on his own.
    He got it under a sole-source contract after associating with Wayne Lloyd and the larger Lloyd and Tryk firm in Santa Fe, which could provide support for Marquez's four-person office.
    "The first thing we had to contend with was that Mrs. Martinez was going to stay, and we still wanted the building. So we started doing charettes, basically brainstorming sessions where you come up with different design solutions."
    A design team member, Antonio Pares, suggested flipping the layout. That not only worked but worked well, Marquez says. And it allowed the Martinez house to be isolated between the project and the parking lot.
    Ninety-five percent of the ideas generated in the Predock-Marquez collaboration are intact in the current design, Marquez says.
    The team's inspiration was drawn from Hispanic culture the Escorial and the Alhambra in Spain, the pyramids of the Aztec and Mayan cultures in Mesoamerica, the colonial buildings in New Mexico and modernist Latin architecture.
    "The inspiration comes from all these elements ... that are tied directly and indirectly in some cases to the building from things as simple as a courtyard to things as wonderful and elaborate and grand as a barrel-vault circulation gallery that runs the entire length of the new building modeled after the scale of the Escorial," a palace- monastery in Spain.
    The theater takes its shape from the torres of the Mesoamerican pyramids; the ticket-taking entry towers are based on colonial torreons, (fortified towers constructed in many early Hispanic communities as lookouts and refuges), he says.
    The center also incorporates an existing 1930s Works Progress Administration school building that was renovated by the architects.
    "The skyline of this building is inspired by the skyline of Mesoamerica, where pyramids rise above the jungle plain," Marquez says.
    The "new" design with old concepts went before the Hispanic Cultural Center board.
    "Everybody loved it," Marquez says. "Mrs. Martinez got to stay. We got our building. The state got their project. And off we went."