A-mazing University of New Mexico campus: Albuquerque

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.

School of Architecture and Planning, one of the newest buildings on campus. 

Hodgin Hall the oldest building on campus.  Originally built in 1892, it was converted to the Pueblo Revival style in 1908 and has been recently renovated to keep it looking new.  

Art Spaces

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.

Ping-Pong artwork as seen from the sidewalk in front of the Architecture and Planning Building.

The Ping-Pong artwork close-up. Too bad there was no plaque with title and artist.  We loved moving the balls to create different designs. 

One of the many vignettes found on students work stations. 

A close-up of 8-foot pencil sculpture in the building's lobby. How fitting is this for an architectural school?

Anonymous, Sean Mellyn, seven-colour lithograph, 2001, edition of 20, 22.25 X 17 inches, collaborating printer: Bill Lagattuta. Just one of many fun lithos to look at and potentially buy at the Tamarind Institute. 

This stencil for an artwork was hanging from the fluorescent light fixture. It made for an interesting found artwork in and of itself at the Tamarind Institute.

One of the many file cabinets filled with artworks at the Tamarind Institute.

A small sculpture court can be found near the Hodgin Hall Alumni Center.

A colourful public artwork that fits with the Hispanic culture of the campus. 

Quiet Places

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.

Zimmerman Library entrance to the new wing.  

The hallway of the original wing with its rich carpet, wood book cases, murals and decorative ceiling.

Close-up of the wonderful decorative ceiling. 

One of several murals celebrating the pioneers of New Mexico.

Old index card file.

Footnotes:

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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Unbelievable: 20,000 Petroglyphs in Albuquerque

By Richard White, April 15, 2014

The petroglyphs at Petroglyphs National Monument (PNM) on the western edge of Albuquerque (ABQ) are unbelievable - in quantity, quality and accessibility.  Though we had read that there are 20,000+ petroglyphs, but being the skeptics we are, we didn’t expect to see hundreds of them in a matter of minutes.  In fact, Brenda spotted one just a few steps onto the first trail that most people were just walking by. While there are 20,000+ petroglyphs in the park, only about 500+ are available to the public via the designated walking trails.

Not only were the petroglyphs everywhere, but you can walk right up to them (look but don’t touch) and take as many photos as you wish from any angle you like. No security here!

PNM is billed as an outdoor gallery and it definitely lives up to that billing with lots of interpretive panels re: history, geology and vegetation.  You can spend 30 minutes, one hour, or more than 3 hours depending on your interest. 

The quality of the images is also amazing. Some look as if they were just done yesterday, only a few have faded or become worn over time. Its hard to believe Archeologists estimate that most of these images were done 400 to 700 years ago, some may even be as old as 2,000 to 3,000 years. Petroglyphs are rock carvings (rock paintings are called pictographs) made by pecking directly on the rock surface using a stone chisel. When the "desert varnish" on the surface of the rock was pecked off, the lighter rock underneath was exposed, creating the petroglyph. It is estimated 90% of the petroglyphs in PNM were created by the ancestors of today's Pueblo Indians. Puebloans have lived in the Rio Grande Valley since before 500 A.D.

Beginning in the 1600s Hispanic heirs of the Atrisco Land Grant carved crosses and livestock brands into the rocks. Other explorers in the 1800s chiseled their names and dates into the boulders. Walking the trails and studying these petroglyphs gives you a chance to contemplate the cultural continuity of human history.

There are three petroglyph sites in PNM – Boca Negra Canyon, Piedras Marcadas Canyon and Rinconda Canyon (the latter is currently under renovation after trails were destroyed by a fall 2013 storm).  Strangely, the Visitor Centre is located at a separate site all be it near the Boca Negra Canyon site. It is recommended you stop there and pick up the brochures with maps however. 

Most people start their tour at Boca Negra Canyon (BNC) which has two trails, one that is more difficult as you climb to the top of the mesa on a trail full of rocks imbedded in the asphalt. It is not stroller or wheelchair accessible. The second trail is a short, 15-minute loop walk with not much elevation change. 

BNC is both a good climb for families and a history lesson about petroglyphs, geology and native vegetation. Kids relate to the child-like images and love to draw them so bring a sketchpad.  Also, wear running or hiking shoes (flip-flops and sandals not advised) as you will want to climb some of the rocks.  The volcanic rocks are easy to climb - not too large, flat-sided and don’t shift when you step on them. 

Also there is a fun 5-minute trail where you get to walk in the arroyos dry wash (sandy river bed) to a picnic area, then a boardwalk before reaching the next trail.

After about an hour at BNC, we headed to Piederas Marcadas Canyon (PMC) which is an 10-minute, well marked drive.  Don’t be surprised when you have to park behind a gas station and cupcake bakery!  PMC is very different from BNC as you are in a city park with lots of trails and you are free to go anywhere you want. There is a marked trail however with six stops where you will find a concentration of visible petroglyphs. Again, don't touch. The brochure challenges you to find one specific petroglyph as per the photo at each of the six stops - a fun activity for all ages. Or, you could play “I spy with my little eye, a petroglyph with….”

You could spend an hour or more exploring PMC. There are lots of rocks to climb and petroglyphs to find.

Here is our photo essay of Petroglyphs National Monument. 

Note the bullet holes that have damaged these petroglyphs. Given the area is open to the public it is surprising how clean it is, no graffiti, no litter or bottles.  

This is our path back to the 21st century.

Footnotes:

On one level, there is an eerie surrealism about this sacred place of sand and black rocks.  On another level, it is bit like walking into a kindergarten classroom or maybe along a city sidewalk where children have been let loose with a box of sidewalk chalk. There is something primordial and familiar about the images and symbols; they are part of the human psyche.

For more information, click here for Petroglyphs National Monument's website.

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