August 5, 1997 in Features

The Spirit Of A Place ‘Outlaw’ Architect Antoine Predock Immerses Himself In The Geologic And Cultural History Of Sites As He Designs

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Tags:profile

If you stumbled upon Antoine Predock’s book “Architectural Journeys” and didn’t notice the title, you might mistake it for a collection of children’s drawings.

Not that the images inside are awkward - hardly. It’s just that they’re refreshingly playful and uninhibited.

“Actually, I feel very childlike when I draw,” Predock said during a recent telephone interview. “The act is more physical than cerebral.”

He elaborates in the book: “My drawings aren’t about detail or proportion. They are about the spirit of a building or a place…. Drawing is a way of taking on a place, absorbing it, immersing myself in it.”

Predock, one of the decade’s most celebrated and successful American architects, will discuss his work during a free lecture tonight at 7 at The Met, 901 W. Sprague. He says the presentation is intended for the general public, not just fellow architects.

Predock’s visit to Spokane coincides with the Subud World Congress currently convened here.

A Subud member for 32 years, Predock doesn’t proselytize his spirituality. Indeed, magazine articles tend to picture him in black leather jackets, and when Predock talks or writes about spiritual experiences, they’re likely to involve riding a 1951 Vincent Black Shadow motorcycle across the New Mexican desert.

No wonder Vanity Fair dubbed him “the outlaw of American architecture” a few years back.

But since 1987, when his Nelson Fine Arts Center at Arizona State University won the American Institute of Architects’ National Honor Award, Predock has ridden that iconoclast image to the pinnacle of contemporary architecture, sometimes leaving luminaries in his wake. (Michael Graves jokingly began referring to Predock as “Antoine Predator” after losing out to him on projects in Las Vegas and Los Alamos.)

Predock’s commissions range from the Chemistry and Nanotechnology Building at Rice University to a 1,000-room “roadside motel” at Euro Disney, near Paris. His resume is littered with museums, art galleries, theaters and private residences, many of them award-winning.

Predock has lived and worked in Albuquerque for more than 40 years, but “Architectural Journeys” also reflects his curiosity in classic design - the book’s ink and pastel sketches include Spanish monasteries, French cathedrals and Roman temples.

“I think I’ve drawn the Pantheon a thousand times,” he told Vanity Fair. “I wanted it to become like my signature, my handwriting.”

Predock’s creations often suggest that classic influence. But they’re just as likely to reveal his fascination with pop culture, with references to UFOs, drive-in movie screens, baseball dugouts, even patterns borrowed from his turquoise belt buckle.

Architectural critics say Predock’s style resists pigeonholing. “He designs buildings deeply ingrained in the tradition and spirit of a place - yet unlike anything we have seen before,” Paul Goldberger of The New York Times wrote in 1990.

Predock once sited a house by running up and down a ridge in search of the best views and most interesting geological formations, then drew a line through his footprints and transferred it to paper.

“Crucial to the spirit of my work is the enigmatic quality of the desert,” he says. “You think you’ve got it, you think you understand. Then you turn over a rock and discover other worlds, other realms within.”

Like the two architects who most influenced him - Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Kahn - Predock strives to understand a site’s spiritual roots.

To that end, he practices a technique he calls “conceptual excavation,” working like an archaeologist to unearth a site’s geological and cultural history.

For instance, close inspection of a New Mexican roadcut may reveal artifacts as disparate as ocean-bottom fossils and a 1930s hubcap. But somehow a Predock building might manage to pay tribute to both.

To help architecture students get in touch with the spirit of a place, Predock encourages them to search the ground for something to draw with - a feather, clam shell or Popsicle stick.

“It’s a way of tricking them out of their old habits,” Predock says. “It helps them become a different person” and see the world from a fresh perspective.”

“Architecture is a fascinating journey toward the unexpected,” Predock once wrote. “It’s a ride - a physical ride and an intellectual ride.”

Tonight’s lecture is an opportunity to join the 61-year-old architect for one of his high-octane rides across the landscape of contemporary design. Leather jackets are optional. , DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 4 Photos (3 Color); sketch

MEMO: Antoine Predock’s lecture is co-sponsored by the American Institute of Architects Spokane Chapter. Copies of his books, “Architectural Journeys” (Rizzoli, $35) and “Antoine Predock - Architect” (Rizzoli, $35, paperback) will be on sale before and after the lecture. Part of the receipts, along with any donations, will go toward the Spokane chapter’s Habitat for Humanity project.

Antoine Predock’s lecture is co-sponsored by the American Institute of Architects Spokane Chapter. Copies of his books, “Architectural Journeys” (Rizzoli, $35) and “Antoine Predock - Architect” (Rizzoli, $35, paperback) will be on sale before and after the lecture. Part of the receipts, along with any donations, will go toward the Spokane chapter’s Habitat for Humanity project.

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