Antoine Predock took to drawing and painting like an architect to form-molding. Better known as the designer of spectacular buildings, Predock has a predilection for taking pen to paper that is exuberantly displayed in Drawing Into Architecture: The Sketches of Antoine Predock, just out from University of New Mexico Press — and in the related exhibition, Drawing Into Architecture: Sketches and Models by Antoine Predock, on display through Oct. 2 at the Albuquerque Museum.
“I loved the power of the gestural act in painting,” Predock said in a discussion of his university days. “Later when I would talk to students about it, I started calling it the innocent mark. I’d say, ‘Hey, you guys, when you sign your name, it’s pretty free, right?’ They’d nod their heads, ‘Yeah, sure,’ and I’d say, ‘Why can’t your drawings be as free and innocent as your signature?’
“When I had the Rome Prize and I was living in Rome, I obsessively drew the Pantheon, and I drew it when I’d go back to Rome, and I began to draw it almost as a signature, like I was signing the building, that overwhelmingly powerful UFO sitting there in the middle of Rome.”
The more than 150 images in Drawing Into Architecture include reverent impressions of the Royal Palace in Bangkok, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, and San José de Gracia Church in Las Trampas, New Mexico. And there are drawings made as part of the conception process for his own feats of architecture, including the awesome Gateway Center and Plaza at the University of Minnesota (2000) with its Memorial Hall, “an irregular polyhedron of colliding granite planes and glazed fissures,” and the glassy, sky-reaching Canadian Museum for Human Rights (2014) in Winnipeg. His subjects are rendered on a range from quite strictly realistic to spontaneously gestural. Among the examples of the latter are his landscape drawings of China’s Taklamakan Desert, New Zealand’s Kaikoura Peninsula, and Albuquerque’s escarpments.
“Predock’s habit of drawing is incessant and prolific,” writes the book’s author, Christopher Curtis Mead, adding that the man “has learned through years of experience to condense the multiple sensations and ideas at hand into memorably succinct collations of line and color.” Mead taught architecture and art at the University of New Mexico from 1980 to 2013. He also authored Roadcut: The Architecture of Antoine Predock (UNM Press, 2011).
Predock told Pasatiempo that he forayed into art after all the technical courses in engineering were accomplished. This was at the University of New Mexico in the 1950s, “with all the great teachers that were there. Elaine de Kooning was teaching with followers of Clyfford Still from the Bay Area — in particular, Walter Kuhlman — and we had a fantastic teacher in sculpture and drawing, John Tatschl. UNM was really a cooking art school.”
He recalled that when he was a young boy, he used to copy Saturday Evening Post covers and color them with crayons. “Then when I got into architecture, I realized that there was a whole other world there that I seemed to have some ability in. I remember in particular being taught by John Tatschl how to really see something when you’re drawing it — not just copying but seeing the internal structure, to really try to penetrate that thing. It doesn’t mean that it’s a clinical drawing — it means there’s your own spirit in it, and it’s a way of looking.”
Mead writes that Predock’s drawings “make a case for the continuing relevance of the hand to architecture in our digital age.” And while he’s certainly keeping his hand in it, the architect these days is reveling in the gestural possibilities of the Apple Pencil. “What I’m doing now is a different thing. I’m doing digital drawings, which is totally fun. I can do all kinds of things that I couldn’t imagine with what I’m used to doing. It’s not like using ink or charcoal, but it’s enjoyable, and it’s a different experience for me.”
The Apple device permits a remarkable range of mark making, and Predock is the kind of artist to appreciate that diversity. From drawing to drawing in the book and the exhibition, we see thick black lines, medium and fine lines, and the black-gray works taking turns with color. Behind them all is an artist who strives for a depiction of essence. Sometimes the result can appear abstract but, he said, “Abstraction never fully took over at all. In my architecture I deal with abstraction, but in my drawings ... I mean if it’s a travel drawing, I am letting the place kind of burn into my sensibility. I’m not going to do a drawing of Las Trampas that’s unrecognizable as Las Trampas. I am a documentarian in that sense of gathering imagery from travels.”
And he has indeed traveled. In the new book are drawings made in a dozen states and 30 different countries. He explained that most of the more exotic locales were encountered on trips related to architecture jobs, “like passing through the Maldives on the way to Hong Kong or Beijing. It started that way when I had a fellowship ... and I did an academic year in Spain in the 1960s and did a lot of travel across the Alps and over to Paris and Istanbul and all over Spain.”
At the very back of Drawing Into Architecture: The Sketches of Antoine Predock, Robert McCarter, professor of architecture at Washington University inSt. Louis, writes of the “laconic precision of Predock’s sketches.” Then he says the sketches “serve to remind us that Predock is one of the very few contemporary architects who sees his works as fundamentally grounded, as emerging from the earth, as being part of the landform, as being an earthwork.” Predock responded, “Yeah, that’s one aspect. It goes back to the early years of ‘Mr. Adobe,’ New Mexico earth, and I honor that time. It’s so deeply embedded in my work, and I take those lessons everywhere I go, but the work is much more complex than just coming out of the earth. It’s about topicality. It’s about what’s in the wind, what’s blowing in the wind in terms of ideas and what new materials are on the horizon.”
Right now Predock is wrapping up projects in Doha, Qatar, and in Chengdu, Sichuan, China. The former is a school of journalism and communication, part of the Education City program that was established by Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser. The Chinese project is similarly grand: Called Luxe Lake New Town, it’s a gateway center with an exhibition pavilion, restaurant, seminar space, and theater for a new city of 100,000 people developed around a new lake that resulted from damming a small tributary. Predock also just finished a house in Vaison-la-Romaine, Provence, France. The area was named for its dominant Roman vestiges. Did he reference those in the design of the residence? “No, not in the least,” he said. “I think architecture has an authority of its time, just as those ruins had, and this house has an authority of its time. It’s very different.”
However, the place did figure into the design. “It has to do with that part of Provence, with sun orientation and outgoing views big-time. For me, site specificity is such an automatic no-brainer. ... Why doesn’t every architect in the world do that? Why do they take baggage they do elsewhere to China or wherever? Famous architects do that — they have a kind of brand, and I respect that, I like that, but I could never do it.”
Predock recalled the 12-foot collages of drawings that appeared in the Roadcut show at the UNM Art Museum. “Those are research pieces that deeply penetrate a place, a place I may not have a chance to go to before I begin working sometimes, and that kind of embedment in place is in the realm of the metaphysical — you know, what’s the spirit of this place? What’s its deeper content? And then on to the other layers, starting with geologic time and moving upwards through the human occupation of place, and those strata popping out into the 21st century, with Twitter and McDonald’s wrappers blowing along the road and what was on MSNBC last night. All that stuff is highly interesting and is part of my endeavor: to pay attention to everything, soak it up, and it can turn up later in the work.” ◀