The Planned Community of La Luz is listed on the National Register of Historic Places


Christopher Mead


Regents’ Professor Emeritus, University of New Mexico; Fellow, Society of Architectural Historians


national register, new mexico, antoine predock
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In 1967, two young developers, Ray Graham III and Didier Raven, chose an equally young Antoine Predock to plan and design the residential community of La Luz (The Light) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Predock’s first independent commission received national acclaim for its skilled application of contemporary theories of urban planning and for its convincing synthesis of modern and regional forms of architecture. La Luz catapulted Predock to early fame and launched him on a career that took him from New Mexico and the American Southwest to projects around the world, from North America to Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. In 2006, the American Institute of Architects awarded him its highest honor, the AIA Gold Medal, for having “asserted a personal and place-inspired vision of architecture with such passion that his buildings have been universally embraced.” In 2023, fifty years after its completion, La Luz was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a significant work of architecture and planning whose sensitivity to issues of place and community extended to the ethics of environmental and ecological sustainability.

In retrospect, the success of La Luz seems inevitable. But this was not the case when it was going up in 1968-1974. Only the optimism of youth explains the confidence with which the developers and the architect undertook this housing experiment on Albuquerque’s west side, across the Rio Grande and eight miles by car from the Downtown. Now densely built up with tract homes, shopping malls, and car dealerships, the area was mostly desert grassland in 1967, with little except cattle and fences between the node of commercial activity just off I-40 to the south and the village of Corrales another seven miles to the north. Sceptics scoffed at the notion that families might want to live in such an unconventional subdivision, so far outside the city.

La Luz is bordered to the west by Coors Boulevard and the West Mesa volcanic escarpment and slopes east to the floodplain of the Rio Grande bosque (woodlands) and the panoramic Sandia Mountains. Peripheral loop roads, screened by earthen berms, access street parking and garages. Paths lead to terraced arrays of townhouses. Sheltered to the west behind blank walls set against the afternoon sun and spring dust storms, the townhouses turn east to the morning light and views; their walled courtyards act as solar traps in winter yet temper the summer sun through roof overhangs. The townhouses are grouped in meandering clusters that follow the site’s natural contours and provide each unit with unobstructed views as the housing blocks step up and down a hillside. The blocks turn inward onto the greenswards, fountains, and pedestrian walkways that—along with tennis courts and a swimming pool—thread the site with skeins of public space. The community covers 24 hillside acres while overlooking another 46 acres of desert scrub, cactus, and grass that preserve a permanent open space and view shed to the Rio Grande bosque and the Sandia Mountains.

Ninety-six townhouses had been built by 1974. Adobe construction merges with cast- concrete lintels and drainage canaletas (gutters), fired-brick floors, plate-glass windows, and milled-lumber ceilings. Walls of adobe brick 16 inches thick, made with clay dredged from the Rio Grande floodplain, provide thermal mass as they absorb and retain solar energy. The townhouses range from 1,400 to 2,200 square feet and organize into five plan types. These adjust  the size, location, and topography of individual units to their common design elements: party walls between adjoining houses; larger courtyards to the east and a pocket entry courtyard to the west; living rooms with arched brick fireplaces and a window wall to the east courtyard; split-level floor plans that climb a half flight from the living room to an upper dining area and kitchen; a separate wing for bathrooms and bedrooms, either on the same floor in one-story townhouses or on an upper floor in two-story townhouses. The living rooms of differing widths have variously rectangular or trapezoidal plans, which pivot the view eastward within aligned housing blocks; depending upon the plan type, the fireplace shifts its position around the room. Garages are mostly detached but slip into basements beneath some of the larger units.

The area was zoned for single family residential (R-1) or agricultural (A-1) use. Neither allowed for the private streets, shared public spaces, and party-wall construction of La Luz, which required a municipal exemption for “special zoning” (SU-1). Predock spoke of the “hard-core environmentalism” that preoccupied him at the time and remembered how he compiled the site’s climatic, topographic, and geological data in a box of index cards. Treating La Luz as an experimental laboratory, he drew its master plan from four interlocking principles: first, the architecture would respond to its site, keeping as much of the land as possible in its native state, especially to the east; second, housing would be tightly clustered to the west along Coors Boulevard; third, automobile and pedestrian traffic would be segregated; and fourth, the community’s private and public spaces would be carefully coordinated.

Serge Chermayeff and Christopher Alexander’s influential treatise, Community and Privacy: Toward a New Architecture of Humanism (1963), brought pattern language, environmental design, and sociology to bear on community planning, and it identified internalized private space and externalized public space as the complementary halves of any vibrant community. Their theoretical argument both paralleled and reinforced the contemporary New Town movement. Originating in Great Britain, the movement had received its first paradigmatic formulation in the United States with Radburn, New Jersey. Laid out in 1928 by the architects and planners, Clarence Stein and Henry Wright, and documented in Stein’s 1951 book, Toward New Towns for America, Radburn was premised on the automobile. But Radburn separates people from cars by clustering the houses into “superblocks” that are served at the back by access roads and garages. The houses themselves are “turned around” to face garden parks that form “the backbone of the neighborhood.”        

In the 1960s, multiple “new towns” were being developed across the United States. Well-known examples include Irvine, California, begun in 1959 to a master plan by William Pereira for The Irvine Company; Reston, Virginia, begun in 1964 to a master plan by Conklin Rossant Architects for the developer Robert E. Simon; and Sea Ranch, California, begun in 1964 to designs by the architects Charles Moore, Joseph Esherick, William Turnbull Jr., and Donlyn Lyndon, in collaboration with the landscape architect Lawrence Halprin. Like La Luz, the plan for Sea Ranch emphasized quality-of-life issues centered on a residential village with green spaces and a direct connection to nature. Predock spent 1964 interning in San Francisco with the architect and urbanist Gerald McCue, who was a colleague of the Sea Ranch architects at the University of California, Berkeley; that same year, Predock also got to know Halprin.

At La Luz, Predock grounded modern urbanism in New Mexico’s native Pueblos and Hispanic villages. The communal spaces of La Luz, and the stepped and rounded profiles of its townhouses, refer at once to Pueblo Bonito at Chaco, whose circular kivas intersect with rectangular room blocks around a ceremonial plaza; to Taos Pueblo, whose elongated North House rises from the concave bowl of its plaza into a stepped profile that echoes the sacred mountain beyond; to the placitas (small public squares), courtyard houses, and humble earth construction of Hispanic villages across northern New Mexico. Predock confessed to feeling like an interloper in this ancient landscape: “I’m this Gringo from nowhere, with Chaco culture out there dating from the eleventh century… and full-blooded descendants of those cultures around me. This, for me as an ‘American,’ carries a certain burden.”

 John Morris Dixon, the editor of Progressive Architecture, hailed La Luz in 1974 as a welcome return to regionalism after decades of the placeless International Style. Dixon related Predock’s modernist yet regional architecture to efforts by Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer in New England, Paul Rudolph in Florida, William Wurster and Harwell Hamilton Harris in California, and Pietro Belluschi in Oregon to reconcile the technological imperatives of modern society with traditional qualities of place. Lewis Mumford had summarized the issue in 1947 with an essay for The New Yorker on the Bay Region Style of northern California, whose idiom of wooden houses heeded the local “terrain, the climate, the way of life.” Before the practice got its name, La Luz anticipated what Kenneth Frampton termed “critical regionalism” in architecture: a fidelity to “topography, context, climate, light and tectonic form” that could restore a coherent sense of place to our disoriented world by reintegrating the antithetical forces of industrial technology and cultural tradition.

Predock was designing La Luz when Vincent Scully was writing Pueblo: Mountain, Village, Dance (1975), his tribute to how Native Americans had lived in partnership with the American Southwest since prehistoric times. The Puebloan peoples, Scully wrote, “occupy a clear position in relation to the fundamental problem of human life: how to get along—which means in the end how to live and die—with the natural world and its laws.” Predock took up this challenge at La Luz, bringing his environmental ethic to bear on a work of modern planning and architecture that drew its primary lessons from the land and from the peoples who had inhabited this land for centuries.

Antoine Predock passed away earlier this month at the age of 87. 

About the Author

Christopher Mead is a Regents’ Professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico and a Fellow of the Society of Architectural Historians. He has written widely on modern architecture and urbanism, including books on the American architects Robert Venturi, Bart Prince, and Antoine Predock, and the French architects Charles Garnier and Victor Baltard. His most recent book is a history of modern Japanese architecture after the bombing of Hiroshima.

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