In the desert outside Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Ettinger residence springs from a natural outcropping of boulders. Its owners wanted a private home that would function as a gallery for their extensive collection of Native American art and that would also provide space for hosting philanthropic events.
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To meet the various demands of the program, Jon Dick, principal of Archaeo Architects, chose to work thematically. “Themes can provide a core for decision making,” he explains, pointing out the built works and writings of many of the Modernist architects and theoreticians. He calls the Ettinger residence a house of stone, water, and light.
Inspired by the Past
Residential architecture – like all domestic life – is always striving for a balance between the comfort of traditions and the benefits of progress.
“Truly historical adobe houses are dark, with few hallways. They were casually built and added onto." Jon Dick, Archaeo Architects
“Stone, water, and light enter the building or become part of it and are abstractly transformed from raw nature." Jon Dick, Archaeo Architects
For the Ettinger house, Dick started with traditional Southwestern architectural elements. Repeated throughout the house are the familiar tapered walls and rounded corners. Wooden balconies and vigas, or timber roof beams, project from the façades. Inside are arched doorways, built-in bancos (benches), and a kiva fireplace with its quarter-round profile. Some of the Southwestern elements are more abstract: wooden slats create ceiling patterns that are evocative of Native American textiles and beadwork.
Yet the overall design of the house is subordinated to a geometry that brings it into its own time. “Truly historical adobe houses are dark, with few hallways. They were casually built and added onto,” says Dick, explaining that he wanted to replicate the varied massing of those houses in a picturesque way but incorporate a geometric clarity.
A Contemporary Interpretation
The resultant floor plan is arranged along a wide arc that sweeps from an anchoring group of boulders. The arc, actually a retaining wall, serves several organizational functions. It directs and constrains the home as it emerges from its point of origin at the rock outcropping. “The building is cut into the site,” Dick says. “On its uphill side, it is cut into the hill. On the downhill side, it is elevated to capture the views.” The arc was also used as an organizing device for integrating the indoors and outdoors.
Smaller curves and circles, which define walls and other boundaries, radiate outward from the arc but are not concentric. In this, too, Dick took his cue from the Modernists. “The house adheres to a geometry, but the geometry is relaxed,” he says. In concept, “it’s similar to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum and its addition. The underlying geometry is strong.” From an experiential point of view, however, the house avoids being overly rigid.
Aside from giving the house an implied sense of order, Dick says that using a rigorous geometry rendered the elements of nature abstract. “Stone, water, and light enter the building or become part of it and are abstractly transformed from raw nature,” he explains.
A central element of the design is the acequia, a manmade stream that springs from an indoor grotto and then winds its way along the arc of the entry gallery. The waterway extends to the outdoors, uniting interior and exterior spaces. Outside, it crosses the path to the front door and spills into a series of ponds. “You experience the water feature,” explains Dick. “Coming into the house, you step over it. You hear the sound of the waterfall and again inside, you hear it at the end of the gallery.” According to Archaeo Architects documentation, “The stream is actually two separate systems. The indoor acequia is a sterile system with an environmentally safe sterilization process and the outdoor ponds are a 'live' system, given that the ponds are home to the owner’s koi. Both systems required their own pumps, plumbing, and filters.”
“The line of water is answered by a line of light,” says Dick. A skylight positioned directly above the acequia introduces daylight into the home and illuminates the artwork on the wall below. This use of light also references the work of earlier architects. “[Louis] Kahn focused on using light as a sculpting element,” says Dick.
Stone, water, and light work together to integrate this 7,900 sq. ft. house into its surroundings. (The interior heated space totals 5,546 sq. ft.) It is organized vertically, by virtue of its cut into the hillside, and in plan by a geometry that flows from the rock mass. The house also has strong associations with the vernacular art and architecture of the Southwest. Therefore, it is able to provide for a diverse set of uses without being disruptive to the landscape.
Kristin graduated from The Ohio State University in 1988 with a B.S. in architecture and a minor in English literature. Afterward, she moved to Seattle, Washington, and began to work as a freelance design journalist, having regular assignments with Seattle’s Daily Journal of Commerce.
After returning to Ohio in 1995, her freelance activities expanded to include writing for trade publications and websites, as well as other forms of electronic media. In 2011, Kristin became the managing editor for Buildipedia.com.
Kristin has been a features writer for Buildipedia.com since January 2010. Some of her articles include: