Big sky. Endless horizon. Stunning mountaintops. How does an architect design a structure worthy of the landscape of the American Southwest?
Modern Home Tours returns to Santa Fe this weekend. To reacquaint ourselves with the lay of the land, we caught up with Jon Dick of Archaeo Architects whose two homes, one in the Galisteo Basin Preserve and another in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, will be featured on the tour. Jon’s firm, which takes its name from archaeo, the ancient Greek word for “ancient,” pays a deep and abiding respect to the natural and historical landscape of the southwest, whether that’s the organic features of the land or the Anasazi ruins peppered throughout the region. We also caught a glimpse of Jon’s business ethos – a mission of compassion that not only translates to businesses outside the artistic realm, but to life outside of business.
Q&A w/ Jon Dick, Archaeo Architects
Your firm, Archaeo Architects, is guided by a deep respect for landscape. What sort of challenges and opportunities does the landscape of the American Southwest afford?
The southwest has a big horizon, big sky and stunning land forms, all seen through a clarity of light rarely found elsewhere. The challenge is to design a structure worthy of the setting, and that can be rather daunting at times. The opportunity is there however, to create architectural forms that merge with the landscape and accentuate it. At times I’ve used contemporary forms that don’t necessarily merge with the surroundings but contrast with it. The character of the Galisteo Basin Preserve home is distinctly contemporary, which accentuates and focuses attention on the organic features of the land, which are embraced by the architecture. The stark contrast between the manmade architecture and natural scenery, I believe, can complement both.
A lot of your design feels distinctly modern – yet you have a great knowledge of the historical roots of wherever you’re building, which is reflected in your firm’s name. Can you walk us through some of the history of Santa Fe, architecturally speaking, and especially speak to the culture of modern design?
By adhering to, yet abstracting, the underlying principles of the southwestern vernacular, with its lean, Zen-like simplicity, the architecture recedes back to allow the views of the natural environment to dominate. This stems, not necessarily from precedents of the recent past, but rather the ancient past. We are fortunate here in the Southwest to have truly ancient architecture from which to refer. Namely, the Anasazi ruins found throughout the region. In their ruined state, there is a haunting beauty and minimalism about those forms, all made from indigenous local materials. It’s not a big stretch to take that minimalism seen in the ruins and translate it to clean simple modernist forms. As long as those forms have a dialog with the landscape, just as the Anasazi’s architecture did and still does. They were one with nature, in cultural and religious ways that run very, very deep. There is much we can learn from them.
You have two homes on the upcoming Santa Fe Modern Home Tour – one in the Galisteo Basin Preserve and the other in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. What features should tour-goers be sure to look out for in each home?
First and foremost, is the setting and how the house frames the predominant views. Secondly, is the use of natural light in unique and intriguing ways that allows one to sense the changing time of day, as well as the seasons. We try and use light as a form defining element. Lastly, is our use of restraint. We often explore, not so much what all can be put in a house, but rather, how much can be stripped away to its very essence, while still providing the warm sanctuary that is “home.”
Besides your artistic mission, you have a business mission, which your website says was influenced by Bo Burlingham’s book “Small Giants.” Can you elaborate on that?
I find that Bo Burlingham’s book “Small Giants” focuses on aspects of life and work that is rarely attended to today. It’s all about seeing what we do in the greater picture. Compassion is key. Compassion for those we work for and for those we work with. One often hears that “it isn’t personal, it’s only business”. Well, we believe everything is personal.
Architecture is our passion and we’re rather obsessed about it. We focus on trying to create inspired architecture, meticulous attention to the client and excellence in execution. As a result, the business profits take care of themselves. We do what is “right” for the client, even when it doesn’t seem to be profitable, expedient or conventional.
We hope, as Bo Burlingham advises, to use our work simply to become better human beings.