Jury comments: The clean articulation of the metal conference room “box” plays nicely off of interior wood finishes. Balance between solid and light is enhanced by the skylight. Interior light is nicely filtered from the skylight through the trusses.

This place is quite changed from the generic office of a financial-services firm. The cubicles and the dropped ceiling are gone, and so is all of the boring furniture. Now the studio of Autotroph Design, it’s an expansive, well-lit space with the visible roof trusses and the new wood-look vinyl floor contrasting with a large, movable black box that was innovated by principal Alexander Dzurec.

That gleaming black box is composed of heavy sliding walls that create a flexible program for the office. When they’re all open, the floor area there is just part of the open studio space. When partially closed, Dzurec has privacy, and when all the sliding wall elements are extended, one or two private rooms are possible. The outside surfaces of the walls, which are heavy but slide easily, are black and the insides are finished with Homasote pin-board material — many now covered with building schematics.

“We’ve called it Transformer Studio, the idea that it transformed an old building into something new and interesting, but it also transforms the spaces with our wall-panel system,” Dzurec said. “The jurors liked the idea of a box within a box.”

The transformation was a joint project with owner John Barker, who had the dropped ceilings ripped out before the architects came in. The two entities split the cost of the unique panel system, which Dzurec said is a prototype for a new residence in the Galisteo Basin Preserve; in that example, the sliding walls will be employed for security and solar control.

Autotroph Design is known for the Warehouse 21 teen center; a series of stamped-metal bus shelters for the city; “Modern Ruin,” an award-winning house that Dzurec designed in collaboration with owner Zane Fischer; and design work for Meow Wolf and Descartes Labs. Autotroph has several architects and designers in its local office and one more in its Baltimore office.

Dzurec moved into the space at 222 E. Marcy Street last March. The studio, almost 2,000 square feet, is part of the Radio Plaza building that Santa Fe New Mexican owner Frank Rand built in 1947 for radio station KTRC-AM. “I’m not sure exactly where the station was, but the building was constructed of concrete-block walls that were supposedly blast-resistant in the event of a bombing.” That was apparently a regulation for radio stations, perhaps a remnant of the World War II days.

The studio’s door desks on metal sawhorses lend a recycled feeling to the Autotroph office, and they incorporated some of the bus-stop enclosure material that was based on Northern New Mexico’s stamped-tin craft tradition. “These were all material samples from when we were doing the bus-shelter project,” Dzurec said. Windows along two walls admit natural light from the north (along Marcy Street) and the east (Cienega Street), and they added a skylight to brighten up the middle of the room.

“These roof trusses are all original; we just uncovered them by removing the old drop ceiling. There was minimal insulation and when we came in, one of the first projects we did for the owner was reroof the building with four inches of foam insulation. That enabled us to expose all of the wood up here, leaving the truss space open. “We used the construction process of our space as a learning experience, especially for the younger architects on the team,” he said. In another interview in the fall, he mentioned that the well-lit, open space “has really enhanced our creativity and productivity, versus the cramped basement space we were in before.”

About the jurors’ comment regarding interior contrasts, Dzurec said, “We were really striving for that, the old of the trusses against the new of the metal panels for a more modern industrial feel.” The warmth of the exposed wood “helps work against the coldness of the black steel,” he said. “Although the steel can actually be warm in the right light on summer mornings.” — Paul Weideman



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