Architecture's Natural Winner

Arizona State University's Nelson Fine Arts Center, designed by Predock, resembles a futuristic adobe village.
Arizona State University's Nelson Fine Arts Center, designed by Predock, resembles a futuristic adobe village. (By Timothy Hursley)
By Linda Hales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 9, 2005

Antoine Predock, architecture's poet of sky and earth, has won the 2006 Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects.

In announcing the award yesterday, the AIA saluted the New Mexico architect for an approach "born out of his geographic surroundings, the American West, an open desert full of history and expansive space."

"I'm floating," Predock said by phone from his Albuquerque studio. A 7-degree chill made a celebratory ride on one of his collection of motorcycles impractical, but there was plenty of effervescence to share with members of his team, who "have gone along with my idiosyncratic weirdness for a long time."

Predock is known for boldly expressive buildings that seem to grow from their landscapes. Many are in the Southwest, where stark terrain and unrelenting forces of nature have inspired four decades of homes, schools, libraries, museums and more. Works such as the 2004 arts center for Pima Community College in Green Valley, Ariz., are dramatic, subtle and beautiful.

Road cuts through the desert have inspired enigmatic structures. Architecture becomes the "mediating" layer between human "interlopers" and the land.

"Arguably, more than any American architect of any time, Antoine Predock has asserted a personal and place-inspired vision of architecture with such passion and conviction that his buildings have been universally embraced," Thomas S. Howorth, chairman of the AIA medal committee, said in a statement.

The Gold Medal is the AIA's highest honor. Awarded for the 62nd time, it puts Predock's body of work on a plane with that of Thomas Jefferson, Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn, I.M. Pei, Cesar Pelli and last year's recipient, Santiago Calatrava.

Predock, who was born in Lebanon, Mo., in 1936, acknowledges the power of his adopted region, writing on his Web site: "The lessons I've learned here about responding to the forces of a place can be implemented anywhere. I don't have to invent a new methodology for new contexts. It is as if New Mexico has already prepared me.''

In conversation yesterday, Predock was quick to point out that he has grown beyond the Southwestern desert, where a 1990 fine arts center for Arizona State University in Tempe rises like a futuristic adobe village.

"My beginnings in the Southwest are clear and palpable," he said. "My beginnings here made me pay attention to where the sun is, where the winds are, the power of the site. . . .I take that baggage with me."

He has opened an office in Taipei to work on a $75 million project for the National Palace Museum. Images on the Web reveal a design based on an abstract landscape of mountain and water rendered in marble, facets of jade-like glass and spiraling bronze. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is a symbolic apparition of ice, clouds and stone in a field of grass, with abstract wings of a dove embracing a mythic stone mountain. For the Inn at the French Laundry, Thomas Keller's famed restaurant in Yountville, Calif., Predock envisions 20 idiosyncratic rooms, a spa and gardens as a continuation of the Napa Valley landscape. Predock's terrain will be crafted from compacted earth, translucent and colored glass, oak, concrete and steel.

Predock attended architecture school at the University of New Mexico and graduated from Columbia University. Settling in Albuquerque, he rapidly developed a reputation as the region's most interesting designer. Over the past two decades, he has emerged on the national stage through such innovative projects as the Tacoma Art Museum in Washington state, completed in 2003. Predock designed its stainless-steel skin "to disappear in Tacoma's gray mist." The industrial surface honors the city's economic heritage, while reflecting passing clouds.

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