Richard White, April 25, 2014
Sometimes I think all university campus planners should be shot. This was never more true then a recent visit to the University of New Mexico (UNM) in Albuquerque (ABQ) where even the people in their Visitor Center had difficulty explaining how to get to buildings. Why? Because the campus’ random connection of sidewalks, pedestrian malls, plazas, patios, gardens, alleys and ponds are not intuitively understood. It seems like every time the university wanted to add a building, they threw a dart at a map of the campus and built wherever the dart landed (as long as there wasn't a building already there). The end result is an A-MAZING campus design!
Why can’t campus planners use a grid system (or some pattern that is easily understood and communicated) that would allow everyone to negotiate their way from building to building in a straightforward manner?
Why can’t there be sight lines so you can see more than one building at time?
Why can’t the building's name also be placed at the top where it can be viewed from a distance? Too often the building's names is hidden by trees and shrubs. Sometimes you can be standing right beside the building you are trying to find and not even know it. Universities are not unique in this; it happens with downtown office buildings, retail and restaurants (bring back the blade sign).
UNM is not the only poorly planned campus. Most university campuses I have visited lack a coherent street or sidewalk pattern that allows visitors to easily navigate from building to building.
UNM however suffers more than most universities because all of its buildings are designed in the same Pueblo Revival architecture style. While the design is lovely, authentic and timeless, it is hard to tell the buildings apart because of their same colour and materials. Thought it is nice to have synergy and continuity in design, you need some differentiators.
That being said, with some perseverance and luck, we were able to find some "amazing" places and spaces at the UNM.
While the university has a walking tour of public art on campus, none of it really excited us. What did excite us though was some of the amazing student artworks in the School of Architectural and Planning building. We struck up a conversation with a student who was doing some photography near the "ping-pong ball" wall that we thought might be public art. He explained that two years ago, he and his fellow students made the "ping-pong" piece, as well as several other artworks inside the building (note many of the artworks are no longer there). We accepted his kind offer of a studio tour where we got to see lots of design ideas in progress, as well as desks full of funky and quirky desktop vignettes.
We also noticed the Tamarind Institute across Central Avenue from the Architecture and Planning Building, which is one of the world’s leading lithography studios and should be on every art lover's must-see list. They have a little gallery with some wonderful artworks by the likes of Jim Dine and Roy De Forest. If you are really interested, they have file drawers full of artworks – and they are for sale. This would be a great place to buy your first lithograph or add to an existing art collection.
We also spotted Frontier Restaurant and while technically not a campus building, it has been part of the UNM campus culture since 1971. It is huge. And the place is full of kitschy folk art (especially John Wayne portraits). A perfect contrast to Tamarind. The food is served cafeteria-style. And though I would not choose to eat here, it has been recommended in publications with the likes of the New York Times.
The Zimmerman Library is located in the centre of campus. Architecturally, it is considered to be the one of the finest examples of modified Spanish Pueblo Revival-style architecture. While the new half is like any new library – high ceiling, little ornamentation and loud - the older building is amazing.
It has a warmth, richness and seriousness that is lacking in most new libraries where flash, glitz and glitter design often rule. The design was noticeably subtle, quiet and somber. It invited one to think, ponder and reflect. Yes, space and design does influence the way we think and behave.
The Zimmerman Library is a reminder that we need more quiet spaces in our lives.
Everyone suggested we check out the duck pond, but it really wasn’t anything special in our view. The Anthropology and Art Museums looked interesting but both were closed on Monday (we should have done our homework).
The Meteorite Museum is unique and could be a hidden gem, except it is open by appointment only. It has over 600 meteorites and is part of the UNM's Institute of Meteoritic, the premier institution for study of early solar system and planetary evolution in the world.
The UNM campus is an "A-MAZING" two-hour walk in amongst historic and contemporary pueblo buildings. Unique and authentic to Albuquerque and New Mexico, it is definitely worth a visit.
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