In New Mexico’s high desert, 13 miles south of Santa Fe on 160 acres of vast, rolling hills dotted with piñon brush and prairie grass is architect Jon Dick’s latest masterful creation: a stunning residence with a pinwheel layout of rectangular forms abstractly recalling the pueblo ruins of the tribes that once inhabited the Galisteo Basin.
The recently completed Galisteo Basin Preserve Residence is one of the first constructions in a new development within the basin, a 13,522-acre expanse of land operated by the nonprofit Commonweal Conservancy. The goal of the conservancy is to develop the land in a sustainable way, setting aside more than 96 percent of the property as permanently protected space.
With the simple mandate from his clients to create a contemporary home using sustainable design, Dick came upon the pinwheel layout as a practical response to a site having virtually 360-degree views. Dick’s solution created four different viewing angles, three of which were great, he says. “I placed the entry on that less attractive northwest quadrant and shut down the façade to add a sense of mystery to the entry sequence and also buffer the predominant northwest winter winds,” says Dick, who served as the lead architect at his firm, Archaeo Architects.
Two sets of parallel walls crisscross one another at a center point, almost like a pound sign, and make up the basic scheme of the home. The walls expand out past the living spaces, extending into arid landscape and framing the views from interior perspectives. “A panoramic view can become boring, whereas a framed view rarely does,” Dick says. “I wanted to engage the landscape with those four primary walls so the house seemed to slide out into nature, drawing your eye. Even with that bold, functionally unnecessary move, the landscape still dominates.”
Various elements reference the architecture and spirituality of the ancient people who once inhabited the basin. Dick says he designed the house to have wall-dominated architecture with few openings, which is a building trait of the Anasazi. He intentionally set the pinwheel scheme into the geometric shape of a circle because of its mystical importance. “The circle is the only pure geometric form found in nature; the Earth is a circle and so is the iris of our eye,” he says, recalling mythologist Joseph Campbell and the tale of the Indian chief who said, “When we pitch camp, we pitch a camp in a circle. When we look at the horizon, the horizon is in a circle. When the eagle builds a nest, the nest is in a circle. ”
Spaces for family gatherings are positioned around a hearth at the center of the pinwheel design with wings for bedrooms, a studio, and a garage emanating outwards. Pathways guide the inhabitants past openings in walls exposing vistas and into rooms whose studied patterns of light change throughout the day and vary with the seasons. Dick was careful to temper the exposure to the open landscape by also creating more intimate spaces within the home. “Most clients start with the desire to capture all of the great views, which is understandable, but I advise them that they won’t always be in the mood for those big panoramas,” he says. “When feeling more introspective or meditative, the home should provide for that as well.” With thoughtful consideration of the four elements of earth, water, fire, and sky, the Galisteo residence offers a variety of soul-satisfying living spaces.
With further consideration of the Earth and its resources, a 210-panel ground-mounted photovoltaic array—believed to be New Mexico’s largest array attached to a single home—completely powers the residence. Sunlight provides passive solar benefits, and the pinwheel design allows for cross breezes that cool the home. When supplemental heating and cooling is required, geothermal energy is called upon. Rain and snow runoff is harvested into cisterns to provide landscape irrigation, and a motorized louvered roof on the south living room portal permits the owners to easily adjust the amount of light and shadow.
Integrating human activity into the Earth’s rhythms is essential to Dick’s design philosophy. He references the ancient Greek goddess of Earth, Gaia, when explaining why sustainable architecture is important. “We’re an integral part of the planet—a planet that is here to nurture us whenever we have the need,” he says. “Our actions impact Gaia, both positively and negatively.” The Galisteo Basin Preserve Residence is dramatic proof that the architect understands and appreciates the power he wields in the relationship.