Modern Ruin

Modern Ruin in Sante Fe, New Mexico, by Autotroph Design, 2012

Photographs by Alexander Dzurec and Kate Russell are courtesy of Autotroph Design

"Modern Ruin" is an apt name for this house and studio in Agua Fria Traditional Village, just outside Sante Fe. Sharing a piece of property with a family member's house, a green house, chicken coops, and a garden, the new structures designed by Autotroph Design recall the area's traditional adobe architecture and its modern industrial infrastructure. The project appears like something incomplete—a ruin—even as it provides relatively comfortable appointments for the owners, who are also the builders.

The project is comprised of two primary volumes: the dwelling in rammed earth and weathered steel, and the studio in a prefabricated Quonset hut. The house is a two-story structure with service and living spaces on the first floor and a bedroom upstairs. A roof terrace extends from the bedroom over the kitchen and living room.

Inside, the industrial aspect of the design comes in the form of steel joists, corrugated decking, fixtures, and exposed conduit that stand out against the thick rammed earth and CMU walls. The open living area benefits from a glazed garage door that unites the space with a patio to the south. Another patio can be found on the west, just next to the kitchen.

The owners are two artists and avid art collectors, and the "modern ruin" jibes with their lifestyles in a couple ways. First, the house acts as an armature for the display of art, especially on wood walls that were sanded down from the formwork used for the rammed earth. Second, the house is itself an artwork, in terms of the rough qualities of the materials and details, like the kitchen island and sliding doors.

The house also benefits from a number of sustainable features: passive solar orientation and window shading, natural ventilation, solar-thermal radiant floor heating, rainwater catchment, a green roof, permaculture landscape and reused building materials. These features blend seamlessly with a design that finds inspiration in traditional methods, all the while expressed in way that is contemporary and unabashedly (in a good way) rough around the edges.