Interview with Geoffrey Baker

October 1993/March 1997




Antoine Predock's bike, a 1951 Vincent Black Shadow.

GHB: You spent time in Rome. Was that more recently, or was it at that time in your early education that you went to Rome?

AP: In the sixties, I rode a motorbike around Europe - after Europe motorcycles seem to figure prominently in my life - from Paris to Istanbul. I shipped it back to Naples, then rode up through Italy. I visited Rome then. But Geoffrey, I think you're referring to my Rome Prize Fellowship in the eighties. But there's a critical piece of experience I want to throw in, between those two points in time. I was with a dancer when I was a Columbia student. Jennifer Masley, who later became my wife, was a dedicated young Julliard-trained dancer in the Corps de Ballet at the Metropolitan Opera. I became very involved in dance through her inspiration, and I guess, the body in space in general, and I think that has influenced my work profoundly. We co-directed a dance company for a while and the notions of motion in space combined with the assemblage of objects in space led us to develop choreographic strategies. We would make a grid and put dancers at points on the grid. Dancers would be told to move along the grid until they encountered one another - this led to contact improvisational crossroads. There was an aspect of indeterminacy in that the timing of the encounters were random. These interests were related to work done by Merce Cunningham and John Cage. At points on the grid, we made architectural constructs. The reason for this deliberate control of the dancer's space was because the merely emotive response seemed too easy. So we tried to contrive a choreographic/architectural context that would guide the body in space. I am always aware of the body moving through architecture - the physicality of architecture. I've done athletic things, I've run in the Boston Marathon and I've ski raced. I think of real architecture as an adventure, extremely physical, certainly cerebral, but mostly informed by spirit. in terms of the weighing factors, I would place architecture more here [pointing to his heart] than here [pointing to his head], very definitely, that place one points to when one thinks of his or her inner place that operates independently of intellectual processes.

GHB: This is interesting, because I was going to ask you about that, about the relationship in your work between the heart and the mind, and particularly in the context of recent developments. These stylistic movements have been going on for quite sometime now and seem to some extent dependent on where the architect is living. If you live in Europe, in one of the big cities, you go for High Tech maybe, or Deconstruction and its offshoots, perhaps early Modern revival or even Classical Revival. Living in Finland, Alvar Aalto was profoundly concerned with the Finnish landscape and climate and the whole culture. There is also a well-known California School. So where you spend your time, what you enjoy, nurtures attitude and even stylistic evolution. Certainly in the American Southwest, I can well imagine that the heart would be more important than the intellect. I want to ask you how you feel about various stylistic movements that have been developing, where sometimes it seems as though it's perhaps the intellect more than the heart that produces an architecture devoid of any sense of context.

AP: The heart and mind are of course part of a triad - a triad in which they play supporting roles to spirit. The infusion of post-structuralist thought into architectural theory, particularly at certain sites on the East Coast, has extended the interesting chicken or the egg polemic. Is there architecture without theory? Is there theory without architecture? Is architecture dependent on theory? Those debates are interesting to me peripherally. The Eurocentric bias that has been part of American architecture since the earliest eclectic stylistic manifestations is still there; the fascination with French literary critics and the like offers important and new insights into thinking about architecture. I guess that in New Mexico I have unconsciously protected myself against too much of that onslaught, simply because I'm out of that loop, out of that dialogue. Working here, you simply have to deal with wind direction, the movement of the sun and the iconic landscapes (mountains) in a built architecture; though I never exclude solely theoretical models when I define architecture. I don't think architecture necessarily has to be built to be critically important. In my case I do build, I've built many buildings and they are an obvious visceral response to this place at fundamental levels. If there were an all-pervasive theoretical or stylistic context here, like I remember on the East Coast where I have lived and studied and taught at different times, I'm not sure I would have escaped those omnipresent influences. In Santa Fe you have it, but in New Mexico, there is Santa Fe and there is Albuquerque, which is Wild West, and has no stylistic mould; it has little regional continuity. Little pockets, small enclaves might have a Pueblo drift but Albuquerque is just another Wild West city along Route 66. Great film-makers like Wim Wenders have seen beyond the 'cuteness' of the American Southwest to its core in movies like Paris, Texas.

Being in Albuquerque I feel like I'm globally connected because the airport's ten minutes away, but I think I look more towards the Pacific than the Atlantic in terms of fishing ground. For me, the Pacific is richer fishing ground than the Atlantic, not dominated by all the Eurocentric fish. The Pacific laps on the shores of Meso-America, of South America, the Indonesian archipelago, Malaysia, Japan, the Oceanic cultures and all the others hardly mentioned in architectural history courses. When I studied architectural history, they were marginally noted, if at all, those fabulous cultures, and there is no impetus to an architecture that was very different from a rational European model; so I've tried to achieve a balance. But I very much appreciate my time in Rome, particularly in the eighties with the Rome Prize, and time to just surrender to the place over a length of time. I did many drawings and made a video piece, and during that dangerous time in architecture during the eighties I tried to come back without any nostalgic Post Modern trappings as the residue, as the distillation of my experience.