artist residency in santa fe, New Mexico
THE SITE: High on foothills of the Sangre de Christo mountains outside of Santa Fe, windswept and raw on the western slopes of scrub juniper and piñon overlooking the plain, backed against the national forest 500’ above, one small ravine offers shelter. One small slope faces back east against the massive ridge. We find this place significant. On the land we have available to build this little arroyo, sinuous and cool, threading its way down the mountain provides an unlikely sense of containment in the vast expanse that spreads below and above into the New Mexico sky.
The land is rough, strewn with pink granite and shards of basalt and the exploded remnants of ancient limestone caves. Here the trees grow hardy, low and resolute and so dense on the northern slopes that one cannot pass among them. The twisted wreckage of the unfortunate ones who succumbed to the long summers crack and splinter but do not rot, while purple prickly pear and cholla lay claim to the sun scoured earth among their shattered remains. It is not a gentle landscape. One learns from the plants and the rocks and the earth and the wide open sky that to live here requires determination and patience. The time between the rains will be long and when they come they will come heavy, the sun will be hot in between, the high desert air always thin.
THE MISSION: We do not take the task of designing an artist’s residency on this site lightly. The relative remoteness and difficulty of access to build beyond the edges of the site, combined with the rawness of the landscape define significant limitations. On the one hand, facilities will need to be spare; on the other, the architecture will need to be resolute enough so that it is not overwhelmed by the land. Viewed from another perspective: the architecture will have to support a human presence significant enough to condition a community, while still respecting the silence and solitude which enable the spiritual connection to the site that is so powerful an asset here.
These double-edged concerns have led us toward an ideal number of seven residents, a small prime number that resists dividing into pairs, while remaining large enough so that people may absent themselves if need be without undermining the energy of the group. Additionally, we feel strongly that it is less important to provide all the facilities and services that an artist could want, and seek instead to encourage creativity by a measure of asceticism rather than abundance. The land is what matters. What is needed is only that which enables one to live among it, in vigilant daily contact. With this in mind we suggest limiting the type of artists who attend to those who pursue visual or written media, even extending that to academics. This is a place best suited, we believe, to those who work in quiet and who will benefit from the modest accomodations and the break from the frenetic energy of the city.
THE PROGRAM: Seven living units will be clustered in two’s and three’s around a communal outdoor area (400 sqft each). A common dining hall and great room will be positioned nearby along an accessible path where meals will be served every evening (1200 sqft). Both the residences and the dining hall will be accessible by vehicle, for while we believe in a measure of ‘asceticism’ we understand that there is a limit beyond which the basics of subsistence impede creativity— which is the ultimate goal. Two types of studios are proposed: one
kind for those who desire a more communal atmosphere, and another that offers isolation. The former are proposed further along the accessible path, clustered in a group of four (200 sqft each) with a flexible space below that opens wide to an outdoor patio (400+200 sqft). The latter, isolated variety are proposed on the far side of the arroyo across a second bridge and accessed by trails carefully cut into the steep hillside. Three of these isolated studios are proposed with exterior decks (250+150 sqft). A third bridge crosses the arroyo a final time and leads back to the Klein’s house (existing) at the north end of the site. A community building near the group studios contains a bathroom, common space and small kitchen (800 sqft). Lastly, a small, unheated, unserviced satellite studio is situated high on the ridge by the border of the national forest to the northeast (100 sqft). This eighth studio will be available for anyone to reserve.
THE DESIGN: As mentioned above, we propose an architecture that respects the wildness of the landscape but which is also determined enough to match its power. In other words, it is an architecture that neither overwhelms, nor is overwhelmed by the land, but meets it in such a way to synergistically amplify the beauty of each. We seek to do this in two ways: First, through the formal qualities of a specific, unified architectural language, and secondly, by the strict adherence to orthogonal axes which are expressed primarily by the three bridges laid across the arroyo. In both cases, in form and in arrangement, we seek to achieve unity among a disparate collection of buildings that, with minimal visual impact, form an ensemble that is bigger than they themselves and which thereby can complement the grandeur of the landscape.
The hope is that the ideal order of this system primarily affects subconscious experience and remains unobtrusively illusive, while the real order—site-specific, necessary, uncontrived, balanced, etc.—affects the conscious experience. In this way the architecture is positioned on a scale that is both cosmic and contingent, between the world and god, aspiring toward permanence amidst the flux of the rolling earth, the wind, and the changing season, thereby resolutely establishing this site on the foothills of the Sangre de Christo mountains as somewhere significant in a way that is not entirely obvious. In this way we seek to balance the dialectic between chaos and control which is at the heart of all artistic production.