Today 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 Klotz

At 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.   

Directly 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, limit, interruption."
    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 earth."

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 assorted restaurants.

2. "Work 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 gauges.
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 and surface."

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 role."

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."

The architect 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 possible again."


Citations and References

Abe, K. The Woman in the Dunes. New York, 1964.
Coudert, A. Alchemy: The Philosopher's Stone. London, 1980.
Eisenman, P. "Blue Line Text." In, A. Papadakis, et al., eds., Deconstruction. New York, 1989.
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 Beverage. Hartford, CT., 1880.
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