Page D2.2 . 13 November 2002                     
ArchitectureWeek - Design Department
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  • Playing upon the Stage
  • Pueblo Legorreta
  • Berman on Ice

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    Pueblo Legorreta


    This sales pitch certainly reflects how things have changed between the "two Franks." Wright, at the height of his career, attempted to bring his architecture to the masses through his Usonian Houses a dream he never fully realized. Gehry hasn't demonstrated much interest in such a feat, and if the price of the Legorreta units is any indication, superstar architecture for the masses is farther away than ever.

    Timeless Forms on the Hillside

    Taken on its own merits, Zocalo is a triumph. Unlike more typical upscale suburban developments, it does not bulldoze all traces of the site's regional flavor. The site plan responds to the site's topography, respecting natural arroyos and ridges. This gives the project, says Legorreta, "the feeling of an old pueblo, where you can walk to common spaces having always visual contact with nature."

    That's the sense you get from vistas of the development. The building's earth-toned, rectilinear forms (which have become a Legorreta trademark, in the spirit of Luis Barragan and of the regional vernacular), ride along the ridges, gently stepping down where the topography changes, couched amid native landscaping. The vignettes created, with Zocalo in the foreground and the distant hills behind, seem never forced but a natural expression of the site.

    The colors here are restrained compared to those in Legorreta's other work. There are (as yet) no deep purples or vibrant yellows. The colors seem to come from the earth, as if Zocalo had been carved from the land. The color scheme may be timid, but it seems to be an appropriate response to the stylistic norms of its city.

    "Our approach was to be sensitive to the light of the desert and to the context of Santa Fe, using color and shadows with a village scale," explains Legorreta.

    The real strength in the design is its restraint, especially on the exterior. This is not a weak imitation of traditional Southwest architecture, complete with fake vigas (protruding, rough-hewn beams). Scuppers allude to that traditional architectural element but wouldn't be mistaken for anything other than what they really are: a way to get water off the roof.

    The exterior materials are spare; the window frames are narrow and practically disappear. The geometrical forms are thus clearly read and undiluted.

    Bringing Light Inside

    The interiors of the units are likewise spare, but evocative at the same time. One is most impressed with the wealth of natural light. Several of the unit designs feature skylit dining rooms and living rooms. Many of these spaces are two stories, so that the illumination filters down (from skylights or high vertical windows), washing the volumes with light. Some spaces are warmed with ceilings rendered in light pine.

    Says Legorreta: "The philosophy was to spend the money in the quality of the spaces and not in expensive materials," which is counter to the current reigning practice of the U.S. homebuilding industry. The upscale new construction market today appears to be awash in poorly designed "McMansions," swaddled in acres of marble but bereft of powerful spaces.

    Legorreta shows the wisdom of creating memorable space. Zocalo captures a sense of the infinite, akin to the desert, through its planar interiors. The architecture of the inside is intimately tied to that of the exterior a quality rarely found in today's spec housing, even expensive spec housing.

    The interiors possess the same crisp geometry as the exteriors, with edges wrapping views from one space to another, out to private patios, and the landscape beyond.

    In reflecting on his own architecture, Legorreta has said that the designer must "go to the roots, to the culture, and design for a place. The challenge is to create architecture that everyone feels good in." At Zocalo, Legorreta has conjured a contemporary architecture still faithful to the spirit of Santa Fe.

    Michael J. Crosbie is editor-in-chief of Faith & Form, an associate with Steven Winter Associates, and a contributing editor to ArchitectureWeek.   >>>



    ArchWeek Image

    The exterior materials of the Zocalo condominium community in Santa Fe, New Mexico, by Ricardo Legorreta, are spare, and geometrical forms are clearly read.
    Photo: Alan Stoker

    ArchWeek Image

    Functional scuppers allude to traditional vigas.
    Photo: Alan Stoker

    ArchWeek Image

    The units face onto small courtyards.
    Photo: Alan Stoker

    ArchWeek Image

    Double-height interior spaces are flooded with light.
    Photo: Alan Stoker

    ArchWeek Image

    The geometry of interior space is spare but strong.
    Photo: Alan Stoker

    ArchWeek Image

    Some spaces are warmed with ceilings rendered in light pine.
    Photo: Alan Stoker

    ArchWeek Image

    The interiors possess the same crisp geometry as the exteriors.
    Photo: Alan Stoker

    ArchWeek Image

    The interior edges wrap views from one space to another.
    Photo: Alan Stoker


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