Albuquerque Modernism is a public history project created by students in the fall 2015 seminar of the same name at the University of New Mexico School of Architecture and Planning. We began with a simple premise: Albuquerque, the largest city in New Mexico, must be understood as a fundamentally modernist city. With a population of just over 15,000 in 1920, by 1960 Albuquerque had grown to over 200,000 residents, a boom fueled by several of the signal innovations of the mid-twentieth century, including the atomic bomb, the automobile, and the merchant-built suburban home. Mid-century technological innovations, social and political transformations, and economic conditions created a dramatically new built environment in Albuquerque, one visible in both the city’s tremendous growth in area and in the new kinds of buildings that populated a place at the literal and figurative intersection of the Manhattan Project and Route 66.
It is these places and spaces that form the subject of Albuquerque Modernism, which takes up twenty-six key sites in the emergence and transformation of modern architecture and planning here. While the buildings, landscapes, and plans described in this site’s case studies are by no means the only examples of modernism in Albuquerque, they provide a representative sample of the building types, locations, designers, and forms that characterized the modern movement in the metropolitan area. They offer a telling picture of modernism’s rise and fall, from the arrival of the International Style in the 1930s to the fracturing of modernism’s promise by the late 1960s. They suggest the directions that modernism took as both a language of the vernacular landscape and in the iconic structures that were meant to signal Albuquerque’s arrival as a national city. They portray modernism’s interface with regional architectural traditions, its resistance to them, and attempts to interpret them. They suggest how modernism was not only a formal movement but also a social and cultural one, which wrought profound changes in Albuquerque’s landscape.
The case studies on Albuquerque Modernism tell a story of modernism in one local context but also speak to its interaction with and impact on society more broadly. Through archival research, observation, and collaboration, we have crafted a portrait that ranges in scale from the individual home to entire housing developments and in location from the city’s downtown center to the new suburban centers that undermined it. The designers assessed here include both the nationally known and the relatively unknown. All left their mark in ways still traceable in the city’s built environment.
With an easy-to-use interface and a scalable format that can be accessed readily on smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers, we invite visitors to use Albuquerque Modernism for a range of purposes, including their own research on modernism and first-hand tours of the sites we describe here. Several different navigational options facilitate these uses: a map that locates the case studies in the metropolitan region, a timeline that contextualizes them among significant local, national, and global historical events, and an illustrated list of all case studies. Through these tools, we hope that this website will serve as a guide for those who wish to know more about modernism in Albuquerque in particular, about the larger question of how modernism took local forms, and, most ambitiously, about the many threads and stories that make up the history of modern architecture and urbanism.
Authors: Mhd Alaa Eddin Arar, Max Boruff, Stefan Johnson, Sharon Karpinski, Ryan Morton, Alexa Murphy, Dalton Roberts, Ronald Rozelle, Simon Sawyer, Emily Silva, Samuel Strasser, Cameron Townsend, and Lindsey Trout
Editor: Brian D. Goldstein, Assistant Professor, University of New Mexico
Website development: Charlotte McKernan
Cover photos by Samuel Strasser and Brian D. Goldstein
Albuquerque Modernism would not have been possible without the support and collaboration of Audra Bellmore, associate professor and curator of the John Gaw Meem Archives of Southwestern Architecture in the University of New Mexico’s Center for Southwest Research and Special Collections, and the kind and generous staff of the Center for Southwest Research and Special Collections. Their graciousness in making their archival collections available made it possible to document Albuquerque’s mid-century landscape, and allowed us to benefit from the original words and drawings of the key figures who crafted it. Thank you also to Audra Bellmore and Mike Kelly, director of the Center for Southwest Research and Special Collections, for allowing us to reproduce and publish images from their collections. Thanks as well to the individuals, credited in the case studies, who also allowed use of photographs and architectural drawings. Lastly, we are grateful to John Quale, Director and Professor of Architecture at UNM’s School of Architecture and Planning, for supporting this project, and to the Teaching Enhancement Committee of UNM’s Faculty Senate, which financially enabled this project with a Teaching Allocation Grant.