ALCHEMY, AND BEER
we are in the process of liberating architecture from
the abstraction of pure utility
and restoring to it the potential of making invented
places possible again. -Heinrich
514 Central Avenue, in downtown Albuquerque, Garrett Smith, Ltd.
occupies the top floor of a slim, distinctive building, an art
gallery beneath it. Smith, who grew up in northern California,
first came to New Mexico in 1967. Lured by cheaper rental space
than is available uptown, small businesses are leading the way
in the renovation of this corridor that divides the north and south
quadrants of the city. The politicians, whipped by conflicting
interests of powerful neighborhood associations into defeating
the many visions of this area proposed in the past, are following
now with plans to widen and landscape the streets.
across from the offices of Garrett Smith is the project they are
designing for Frank & Lisa Smith (no relation). Formerly Simon's
Western Wear, the site will be the Rio Bravo, a combination restaurant
and brewery. In a bright space Smith, discussed his modus operandi:
1. Pay attention
to the symbolic and experimental elements.
The Rio Bravo's diamond-crossed
stucco facade is troweled over the original brick wall on a chicken
wire network, a mask rented by a vertical epistemological strip like
a Barney Newman "zip" line, whereas "the cut of the
zip becomes a connection." between mind and mouth. Thus row
of windows introduces to the diners sitting behind them a faith in
who might be walking by; seeing, also, a functional view of "disjunction,
Claude Amstrong, who once worked with the minimalist sculptor
Donald Judd, informed me that because of a resurrected city ordinance, in New
Town, as this section is sometimes called, with an obvious glance toward Albuquerque's
sainted Old Town, "Something must happen every 25 feet." Or, in Judd's
words: "I wanted work that didn't involve incredible assumptions about everything."
The Rio Bravo's wine-red
roof is disintroduced with a frieze of softly serrated edges because A
river, I thought; but was told it represents a range of mountains.
This ambiguity, or "catachresis," as architect/theorist
Peter Eisenman might call this state in-between earth and sky,
dawn and dusk, imagination and realization, is symbolic of New
Mexico itself--a state suspended between its colorful past and
hazy future; a city built on sand. "the sands never rested.
Gently but surely they invaded and destroyed the surface of the
If the roof's
motif is symbolic of mountains, clearly they must also derive meaning
from their opposition with the sky, as we cannot see one without
the other, and the anticipation of what is brewing elsewhere and
on its way here. The outdoor animated neon sign with its smug
looking cowboy doing a Will Rogers rope trick harks back to the
1950s heyday of Route 66, Central Avenue being a strip "America's
Main Street" stretching between Chicago and L.A.--this block
alone sporting a men's hat store, pawn and Goodwill stores, Indian
Jewelry & Crafts shop, a contemporary art gallery, a porno
arcade and military induction center, Teriyaki Kitchen and several
within the given."
Albuquerque is a city with a
knack for juxtapositions, as cool blue atmosphere is suddenly scoured
by screaming jet fighters taking off from Kirtland AFB, their
pilots dreaming of hot wars and cold beers as they bank over the
University of New Mexico's campus. Time
flows in a slip stream parted by circumstance's aerodynamic nose:
directed concourse, tension, and pleasure; order, as in "Are
you ready to order?," is remarked by leftover food, soiled
napkins, stained table cloths, scuff marks on the floors, sour
breath and cloaked sweat, absorbing formal space into the fermenting
mulch of life...Here I enter into the procedure, the wonderful
confusion of pieces that come into focus only with the combined
skills of architects and craftspeople in a room apparently chaotic
with long bundles of detached wires, scraps of metals, pipe shavings,
plywood, sawdust, tubs of sealant like thick mucus, tightly lidded
cans of paint, a range of tools in all attitudes, ladders with
arrogant legs apart, and smug measuring tapes...a heady atmosphere
mixed with the fumes and plumes of dreams.
3. Be aware of
new materials and technical innovations.
Through windows toward the back
of the large room can be seen the large stainless steel vats of
the brewery, a sight which makes the Rio Bravo more than just another
place to eat. "Do not begin until all becomes water," is
an ancient alchemic teaching. The operation, then, is not a beginning,
which would be much denser stuff, but a continuation, or redirection,
into "spirits" in the cauldrons with their various fittings,
pipes with elbows, valves and retorts, filters and armed pressure
There is no mention of distilling before the alchemists. Before them, sea
water, for example, was heated in covered pots, the condensed droplets shaken
off for drinking. A Greek whom we know only as Mary the Jewess was the first
to describe a true distillation, using a "tribikos," three tubes
of ductile copper and their glass flasks. It would be seven hundred years
before we hear of the process used for anything but the chemical search for
gold, or the Philosopher's Stone.
Bread and beer,
the products of barley, "are obtained through the death of
the seed corn which is a manifestation of Osiris." And Demeter,
Goddess of Grains, is a photon cloud of seeds drawn from sunny
fields of Neolithic keens. To the Greeks it was zythos,
and was older than the earliest records. The Romans called it cerevisia, and
Julius Caesar had it served in golden goblets. In Germany it is
said that Augustus Caesar's legions were defeated because the Teutons
were high on bior.
In the Middle Ages, "the old abbeys and monasteries were the places where
the best malt liquor was brewed; and not the least among the benefactors of their
species were the Franciscans and Dominicans, who brewed good beer to cheer the
hearts of toiling humanity. Bishops have written in its praise."
Irony's foamy head, as in Albuquerque
alcoholic beverages can't be served within a 300 foot radius of
a church. In the rear of the Rio Bravo, which is in view of a Catholic
church, a staggered line is marked, with the brewing room shifted
to the other side. where the brewmeister watches over the tumid
vats, within which water and malt are steeping into mash.
The liquid's drawn
off as "sweet wort," to which hops—female flowers—are
added for flavor. Boiled, cooled in a heat exchanger, fermented with
a cultured yeast which clears the beer, "giving it life." Filtered
then, pumped into the next room, where in serving tanks the decoction
is aged—two weeks for ale, lager takes longer—, chilled
and processed with a carbonating stone, the elixir is finally pumped
to the restaurant's taps: a golden lion with frothy white mane.
4. Respect and
work to change the environmental consciousness of people.
In the 1830s, what were load-bearing
walls no longer played a structural role. Instead they became "disembodied
skins." While in New Mexico, building with load-bearing adobe
continued, foregoing the multiplicity of images, the farrago of
displacements, the voracity of superficial design. Which may account
for the depth of its popularity to this day, as a longing for simpler
times, for childhood's meaningful centers. "Architects have
yet to understand the consequences of this separation of structure
It may be said here too that
in the slightly acerbic dialogue between Albuquerque and Santa
Fe--in the capitol city's carefully planned preservation and brilliantly
promoted self image, exposed against the Duke City's amorphous
experimentation, even within oscillating fading blueprints--we
can ascertain the folds of a possible range of ecologically viable,
while creatively oriented, futures.
5. Be consistent
with the quality and the basic tenets of design.
On July 15, 1972, in St Louis,
MO., at approximately 3:32 PM, with the dynamiting of the Pruitt-Igoe
housing scheme, or rather several of its ghettoized slab blocks,
the tenants of modern architecture collapsed, simply because it
reflected only its own centralized narcissistic image. If Modernism
wasn't laid to rest that day, it at least had developed a chronic
crack. While its ghost rattled along with the bureaucracy that
specialized in building hugely ugly and dehumanizing public housing
projects, its vision was weakened. Worse, its ethos began to be
questioned, deconstructed, substituted, riven apart.
6. Consider the
aesthetics as central to the plan.
Wrought into the Rio Bravo's
project are iron railings designed as the rays that emanate from
New Mexico's symbolic sun, emblematic of openness, vistas of opportunity
in "The Land of Enchantment;" envisioned here as flat
black disks, thresholds enticing inner eye into "the original
metaphor, the subconscious (that) remains hidden, and is only perceptible
in certain moments, such as dreams, where poetics plays a fundamental
Can this, or any
space, be fully revisioned? Or are the crammed racks of pants and
shirts, the accessories behind glass counters, discounted boxes
of clothes, that occupied the Western Wear Store for decades still
hanging around, revenants taken for animated people, waiters and
diners, cooks and cashiers; that is, renovated space, or generated
humans, do not evolve but are compounded. Like Nature, "architecture
faces a difficult task: to dislocate that which it locates."
considers what was, is, what will be, in a singular extrapolating
pattern, drawing his or her lines nervously up history's spinal
column, from footing to exposed iron trestles formally hidden behind
a dropped ceiling, suspended from the nearly 18-foot wooden roof,
reforming light from two skylights while echoing the design of
the architects' ceiling across the street. What we build is what
we inhabit; but what motivates us to build is what inhabits us.
After the project's
completion, within the architects' sight, wafting through
the firm's large rectangular windows, the result of their "flight
of the soul from the body and its return" will alight on further
visions enthusiastically rolled out, "making invented places
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Frankfort, H. Kingship and the Gods. Chicago, 1948.
Gandelsonas, M. "On Reading Architecture." In, Progressive
Architecture, March 1972.
Hess, T. Barnett Newman. New York, 1969.
Hillman, J. The Myth of Analysis. New York, 1972.
Judd, D. Complete Writings. Nova Scotia, Canada, 1975.
Klotz, H. "Postmodern Architecture." In, Charles Jenicks,
editor., The Post-Modern Reader London, 1992.
Nietzsche, F. The Birth of Tragedy. New York, 1956.
Salen, F.W. Beer, its History and its Economic Value as a National
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Tschumi, B. "Six Concepts." Columbia Documents of Architecture
and Theory, Vol. 2,1993.
Note: This piece was written
on commission by a publication in Santa Fe. It remains unpublished
because the publication's editor phoned to tell me, "Our
readers won't understand it."
Photo: © Kirk Gitting, 1993
© Joel Weishaus, 1993, 2006