Adobe Architecture and Fine Art - September 20, 2011

"Softly shaped adobe forms of the Pueblo Revival architecture hold a romantic attraction for many."

The city of Santa Fe in the northern Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico has, for some time, been a favored destination for visitors from both near and far. Its alternate appellation, “The City Different,” is due to its customs, its cuisine and, at least in part, to its distinctive architecture. Softly shaped adobe forms of the Pueblo Revival architecture hold a romantic attraction for many.

So, in Santa Fe, using the most primitive building materials to shelter the most refined cultural objects is not seen as a contradiction. Two fine art museums which are constructed from genuine adobe are located within three blocks of one another, just off the downtown plaza at the center of our southwestern community.

The New Mexico Museum of Art was constructed in 1917 by the State of New Mexico to serve as a public center for cultural exhibitions. The design for this important institution was fashioned by architect Isaac Rapp, who was one of the originators of the Pueblo Revival, or Santa Fe style, of architecture. This significant building set numerous architectural precedents for much of what was to follow in the region.

Massing for the structure was inspired by centuries-old Spanish missions built at the surrounding pueblos. The building is organized around a central courtyard, which is lined on four sides by portals. It expands upon a previous Rapp design for the New Mexico Pavilion at the 1915 Pan-California Exposition. Architectural elements include tall corner towers, thick adobe buttresses and vigas, which project through the exterior walls. All of these features have since become trademark features of the Santa Fe style of architecture.

At the time of the museum’s founding, there were few commercial galleries for artists to show their work. The Museum of Art opened its doors to local artists and thus helped to attract talent from other states to New Mexico. The result was a stimulating blend of Native American, Spanish and European arts and cultures.

This body of cross-cultural work grew steadily to become the museum’s permanent collection. The exhibition of these artworks in an authentic adobe setting provides today’s visitors with a unique architectural and cultural experience.

A short walk from the Museum of Art, visitors will find the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum which focuses on the works of a unique and idiosyncratic artist of the American Southwest. Founded by philanthropists and part-time residents Anne and John Marion, the private non-profit museum opened in 1997.

The building was adapted and expanded from an existing adobe structure. This original building dates from c. 1908 and stood originally as a modest residence. After 1945, the Spanish Baptist Church purchased the building and constructed a series of adobe additions, which included a large parish hall. These spaces eventually became the exhibit galleries for the O’Keeffe Museum. The design for the renovation and addition was created by architect Richard Gluckman in association with Allegretti Architects. Gluckman provided for a unique natural lighting feature in each of the nine galleries. Natural illumination was an important motivation for the extraordinary visions revealed in O’Keeffe’s works.

The O’Keeffe Museum’s operations also occupy several adjacent structures, including a research center and an education center. The museum’s café is located in two historic brick buildings immediately adjacent to the former adobe parish hall.

Gluckman’s design for the O’Keeffe museum contrasts sharply with the nearby Museum of Art. While the Museum of Art stands as an icon to the traditional Santa Fe Pueblo Style of architecture, the O’Keeffe Museum portrays a quiet, modern presence. Both institutions are treasured assets to the city of Santa Fe as emblematic examples of adobe architecture.

Greg Allegretti has practiced architecture in Santa Fe for 25 years. He very much enjoys museum and exhibit design.