SEEMINGLY CONTRADICTORY SHADOWS COMPLEMENT THE MUD AND BLUE SKY
Hi everyone. I missed last week because Fran and I took a week to visit New Mexico for the first time. We had a wonderful time, and experienced a healthy degree of climate, culture, dining, and architectural shock. These are the kind of contrasts that can excite the senses due to the alien nature of the new environment. At the same time we were reminded of the unique nature of our environs in Portland.
IRON BALCONY AT HISTORIC ADOBE CATHEDRAL
TWO ADOBE DETAILS AT MODERN HOTEL
New Mexico was a shock to the system. It was obviously Winter, but not the Winter we are used to - a High Desert climate, but much drier than even Eastern Oregon. The only street trees that seemed to thrive were Cottonwoods, and they were just barely beginning to bud. We kept seeing photos of green trees and people and realized that we truly had come to visit in the very slow season, and that there was zero chance of rain. I truly realized the difference when a natural science exhibit casually mentioned that the Douglas Firs we see in our neighbor's yards in Portland only appear in New Mexico on mountaintops above 10,000 feet. The weather was very pleasant, with highs about 25 degrees higher than what we had left, and there were very few people, much less tourists about. We began to actually fear ever coming here in the Summer once we realized how easy we had it.
THESE "FAKE" STRUCTURAL SUPPORTS PROVIDE GREAT SHADOW DETAILS
The combination of Native American, Hispanic, and Anglo cultures was certainly different from Portland. The contrast between the living and very old cultures of the pueblos and the oldest cities in the United States with the idea that our bungalow in Portland was built a year before New Mexico statehood in 1912 was head-spinning. As a native New Yorker it has taken me thirty years to get used to the comparative emptiness of Oregon. It took us most of the week to realize that Albuquerque and Santa Fe combined were less than half as big as the Portland Metro area, and that those two cities made up almost half of the population of the whole state!
AS SIMPLE A WOOD DECORATIVE DETAIL AS THEY COME AT ONE COMMERCIAL CORNER
The dining was even better than advertised. We missed meals only because we were so stuffed from the ones we had loved much earlier in the day. Even though I thought I wouldn't miss yet another choice between red or green chile for a very long time, we had some wonderful meals.
NOW THAT'S REAL ADOBE AT PECOS PUEBLO CHURCH RUINS
Yet the biggest shock of all for us was the mysterious horrors of the automotive city. Both Albuquerque and Santa Fe, in their own ways, were total creations of automotive urban design even when they actively fought against it , which was very rare. The contrast with Portland.or at least the Portland Fran and I are used to, was instantly palpable. It took us four days to realize that all of Albuquerque wasn't as ugly as we first thought, mostly because the city was so weirdly laid out, with streets and parking lots at least twice as big as they needed to be. It took me three days to realize that if I just avoided the parking lots and walked down one street and one alley that the main square of Old Town was only three blocks from our rental instead of nine. Fran and I finally found something we could call a neighborhood that resembled Portland when we deliberately ventured away from the streets we were supposed to walk on. While Santa Fe was much more walk-able, it was still not very nice at all five minutes from the Central Square. In fact even a fifteen minute walk was too much, since we were walking on the equivalent of Powell Blvd. Let's just say that they're not handing out "96 walking scores" anywhere in urban New Mexico.
ALBUQUERQUE MUSEUM MODERN SIMPLE ADOBE DETAIL REVEALS HEIGHT OF CORNICE AT FLAT ROOF
As usual my reaction to an alien environment led me to concentrate on the details that could delight me while avoiding the overall ambience that sometimes repelled me. The New Mexican architectural environment seemed to be composed of four elements -mud, wood, decorative details, and a very limited color range. This limited color range even extended to interiors, with color dependent on materials for the most part.
RARE PAINTED DECORATION AT VERY DEEP WINDOW SURROUNDS, HISTORIC CATHEDRAL
THIS INCREDIBLE STONE WALL PROVIDES THE ONLY REAL COLOR AT ALBUQUERQUE MUSEUM
HERE THE ONLY COLOR IS THE HIDDEN LIGHTING ON BOOK-MATCHED WOOD PANELING
These first few images concentrate on mud. While some of this is authentic adobe, I soon ceased to care how "real" it was, since real adobe construction is restricted to historic structures, the very rich, or the very poor. It intrigued me how much the soft mud architecture was adaptable by skilled contemporary architects to new construction, even though I knew that there was probably wood frames or steel underneath. Even Santa Fe seemed more governed by a height limit (which I don't even know exists) than by the mud esthetic. The best contemporary architecture, exemplified by a couple of museums we visited, adapts adobe to their own ends as details without directly copying or pretending to be something they are not. Since it rains only two months a year, outdoor courtyards and flat roofs with elaborate cornices mean that this Portlander could go a week without actually "seeing" a roof. Buildings just ended, only topped by blue sky.
ANOTHER ADOBE CUTAWAY, AT THE ENTRANCE TO PUEBLO CULTURAL CENTER
There was very little wood, which was shocking coming from the land of wood. Wood appeared as structural elements, real or not, or even more characteristically as decoration amid the mud. Carved wood details and elaborate trellises to combat the sun replaced any thought of wood siding, which probably cracks way before it ever rots.
EXPOSED VIGAS AT PUEBLO MUSEUM COURTYARD
RUSTIC WOOD TRELLIS AT PUEBLO COURTYARD
ELABORATE WOOD CARVING AT PECOS NATIONAL MONUMENT VISITOR CENTER, ONCE HOME OF ENGLISH ACTRESS GREER GARSON!
The decorative impulse is based on elaborate details related to actual use, like openings, floors, and supports, amid all of the mud. I've included several that caught my eye.
THIS GATE BOLT IS TYPICAL OF EVEN "MODERN" HARDWARE
WOOD PATIO DOOR
SANTA FE "SECURITY DOOR"
THIS VINTAGE CARVED DOOR AWAITS YOUR NEW HOME AT A GALLERY
What was interesting once I realized what was going on was the very restricted color palette. As opposed to what I have seen highlighted in books on similar desert environments like North Africa or Mexico, New Mexico seems to be almost totally composed of shades of brown. Trim can only be white (my religious color choice) or more likely blue to match the sky. Rarely orange appears to brighten the scene, and lets be honest, that just really a very lively brown. The only real color that intrudes seems to be the decorative tiles that appear as wall decoration more than on floors.
ORANGE PAINTED WOOD AT FRONT PORCH OF CONTEMPORARY NATIVE AMERICAN ART MUSEUM
"TYPICAL" TILE WAINSCOTTING ON A VINTAGE COMMERCIAL BUILDING
I hope you have enjoyed this brief survey of New Mexico details. Next week we will take a look at the natural environment, just as alien from Oregon as the architecture.