Thu, Jul 20, 2006 - Page 13 News List

In Santa Fe, the style police are strict

By Fred A. Bernstein  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Stephen Mills and Susan Emmet Reid's house, doesn't adhere to the neighborhood aesthetic.

PHOTOS: NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Two years ago, Stephen Mills and Susan Emmet Reid woke up to find offensive graffiti scrawled on the outside of their just-completed house in Santa Fe, New Me xico. The spray-painter was not a juvenile delinquent, the couple quickly realized, but someone who objected to the design of the building, comparing it with Nazi architecture.

Situated on a quiet street near the center of town, the house has greenish-gray walls that meet at right angles. Those deviations from the classic Santa Fe style, which features pinkish-brown stucco and rounded edges, were enough to anger many residents.

“A lot of people in town were outraged,” said Jane Farrar, an artist who serves on the city's Historic Design Review Board, which came under attack for allowing the house to be built. The couple was shocked by the reaction. “The last thing we wanted to do was make a statement,” said Reid, a yoga instructor.

A year earlier, the review board, a group of volunteers charged with deciding what is built in the city's 9.5-square-kilometer historic district, approved the design for the house, by Trey Jordan, an architect in Santa Fe.

But after the building was finished, the city's mayor at the time, Larry Delgado, began hearing from angry constituents. As a result, Farrar said, she and other members of the board got “a stern talking-to from the mayor, who threatened not to reappoint us.”

Since then, the board has become increasingly hard to satisfy, said Jordan, who has completed about two dozen buildings in Santa Fe since setting up shop in 1994. Most recently, his refusal to make changes in plans for his own house has brought him and the board to an impasse, which the City Council now has to resolve.

To Jordan, 39, what is at stake is not only the future of his practice, but whether Santa Fe will devolve into what he calls a cartoon version of itself. Jordan contrasts the city with another desert town, Palm Springs, California, where architectural innovation has flourished.

Mills agreed that architectural rigidity is a bad sign for a city. “What concerns me,” he said, “is there seems to be less discussion here about how to integrate architecture of the moment into the past than there is in scores of cities around the world, many of them as old as, or older than, Santa Fe.”

But, Farrar said, Santa Fe's architecture evolved from an American Indian tradition. “It's from the earth, it's rounded, it's organic,” she added. Because of that, she said, the city's historic district may not be the place for experimentation. “Contemporary architecture represents a different sensibility,” she said. Quality is not the issue. Jordan, she said, “is good at what he does, and there are many places for it, even in Santa Fe. But not in the historic district.”

As for the heightened scrutiny the board has been giving proposed buildings since Mills and Reid's house was finished, she said: “Drawings can be deceiving. You may not know that a particular line represents a crisp edge. So we have to be very careful.”

Todd Granzow, an artist and furniture designer who moved to Santa Fe in 1979, said it is important to preserve the dominant look. “No apologies for that,” he said. “Ever been in a Tuscan hill town? The houses are all the same style. Santa Fe was intended to be all of a piece. The decision was made decades ago, and most residents want to uphold it.”

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