Architecture's Natural Winner
Earthy Designer Antoine Predock Takes This Year's AIA Gold Medal

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.

Chase Rynd, president of the National Building Museum, was director of the Tacoma museum when Predock was selected. Yesterday, he recalled how a split board allowed him to cast the deciding vote. Rynd was won over by a visit to the architect's studio and a surprise side trip to Dallas to see the 1993 Turtle Creek house Predock designed for collector Deedie Rose and her husband, Rusty.

"I was just blown away," Rynd said. "I could not have been more taken by a building."

Predock makes clear that he is a modern architect on his own terms.

"Personally, I don't think the models to look toward for architects should be European models," he said, a pointed reference to 20th-century modernism, which emerged from the German Bauhaus. "We can derive our own power. We have our own cultural strata, our own spirit.''

More Americans have probably seen Petco Park, the San Diego Padres ballpark that Predock designed with HOK Sport, than any other of his projects. Predock sought to recast the traditional sports complex as an expansive Southern California garden. He delights in explaining that the park skirted the popular retro revival and imitation Mission styles in favor of an "authentic statement" of outdoor life, water views, the color of local cliffs and the natural dynamic of the game, which is movement.

In a conversation yesterday, Predock did not miss the opportunity to say he "wanted to be part" of the Nationals stadium project, which would have paired him again with HOK Sport and made his work visible in the nation's capital.

As a former Washingtonian -- he lived in Woodley Park while teaching at the University of Maryland in the early 1980s -- Predock gained a "really big" physical connection to the city. He ran "every inch of it" while training for marathons and skied among the monuments on the Mall.

"Washington is such a different animal," he said. "It has a beauty and scale. The cultural overlays having to do with being a world city are phenomenal," and yet it's a distinctly American place.

When reminded of the recent struggles by contemporaries Frank Gehry and Norman Foster to build here, Predock offered counsel to the guardians of tradition: It's okay to break out of the mold once in a while. He cites the "freakout" over the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as an example.

"Look at it now," he said. "My point is, Washington can handle it, if the city is as great as we believe it is."

The Gold Medal will be presented Feb. 10 at the American Architectural Foundation Accent on Architecture Gala at the National Building Museum, where the "Liquid Stone" exhibition offers a stunning glimpse of Predock's work through next month.

Predock's name will be chiseled into the granite Wall of Honor in the lobby of the AIA headquarters on New York Avenue NW.

"That's pretty big time," he said. "It's huge."

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