A Chat With Albuquerque Architect Bart Prince

pattern stories
Written by:
Ed Domain

Bart Prince’s home and studio.

**All photos in this article were shared by Bart Prince

“You need to see the Spaceship House!”

It wasn’t a question. I was sitting with two new friends having a beer, and we were talking about how I’ve been living in Albuquerque since March, but feels like I arrived last week.

For a state full of history, I have enjoyed people’s friendliness, openness and willingness to accept just about anything or anyone, provided they have the same open and accepting outlook.

I told them about some of the things I was able to see, about the hikes I’ve taken. I told them, “every time I think there’s nothing more to see, I realize how little I’ve done here in New Mexico. I still have a lot of the state left to see, and Albuquerque keeps surprising me too!”

My friends listened, nodding and smiling. Michelle looked at me and said excitedly, “you need to see the Spaceship House!”

I looked at her and smiled. “The what, now? Albuquerque has a Spaceship House? Really?”

“Oh yeah,” she said. “People coming through town stop to see it all the time, and the guy who built it is a famous architect,” she said.

A quick Google search later, I saw there was indeed a house that looked like a spaceship…or maybe a submarine inspired by Jules Verne. I couldn’t decide. Curiosity piqued, I made a note in my phone to check it out.

After beers with my friends, the pic I saw online kept rattling around my head, and so one bright Friday morning I looked up the house at 3501 Monte Vista Blvd NE. I looked again at the address on my phone. I live in Nob Hill, and the Spaceship House is on my side of town, only a half mile from me! Talk about an easy drive over.

This is where things get interesting, New Mexico. I stood outside the home, shot photos and wrote an article about the house, but it wasn’t right. I needed to meet the mind who not only designed and built this home, but also built the amazing structures I found online as I did my research.

Much to my surprise, Bart Prince sent a friendly reply to my email and we got into an interesting discussion on his life and work. We agreed we’d enjoy a chance to eventually meet in person, but due to Covid we played it safe and went with email.

I’ll share some highlights of our email conversation with you all, and hope you enjoy the stunning photos and Mr Prince’s answers as much as I did:

Architectural Digest said, “to American architects, Albuquerque, New Mexico-based Bart Prince stands out as one of the most inventive minds in the field, able to spin common materials straight from the lumberyard into delirious fantasies.”

I asked Prince about the quote, and he had this to say:

“I always visit the site WITH my client toward the beginning of the design process so that I can learn what it is that they particularly enjoy about the site and maybe things they don’t like.  I want to know all about the terrain, soils, existing features (trees, rocks, etc.) including any adjacent structures, streets, utilities etc. 

“I will later return to the site at different times of the day to see the changing light, both natural and artificial if it exists.  Once again, I am interested in responding to the site rather than imposing something on it.  At this point in the design process I still have not begun to limit myself to a specific design but am considering where on the site various functions might best be located.  I think many people, both architects and clients, often begin to get preconceptions of form and materials well before they have considered the IDEA of the building from the inside.”

Why His House Looks Like It Does

I asked Prince how he felt having a house that has become a “must-see” on travel websites about Albuquerque, what he thinks about people calling it a spaceship or submarine, and why he chose the design he did.

“Every site and every client deserves to have a design which is unique and responsive to the specifics of the individual situation.  I design from the inside-out, meaning I do not ever begin with a preconception, shape, or form.  I don’t know what will emerge in that sense until I’ve discovered how things work on the inside.  People have often ‘seen’ (in their minds) things they are reminded of instead of what is actually there.  They relate what they see to their own experiences thus the association with animals, planes, ships, etc. etc.  I think this is human nature.  It often happened to Frank Lloyd Wright with his buildings.  When a house doesn’t look like what people think of as a house they immediately begin to ‘see’ a snail, seashell, turtle etc. and are ‘certain’ that is what I was intending.”

Energy Circle

I asked Prince if he ever had a strange encounter with tourists due to the unique nature of his home. He wrote, “There are people stopping and looking every day.  Most are very nice and curious about what they say caught their attention.  I once came home to find a number of people sitting in a circle in my driveway holding hands and humming.  When I asked them whether I could help them they responded ‘No, we’re doing fine.  We’re gathering the energy here!’  I have dozens of stories like this.”

Architecture Bart Prince Enjoys

When the topic of buildings Prince admires came up, he was direct:

“I am particularly attracted to buildings by native peoples.  They ALWAYS are responsive to the individual sites in macro and micro aspects with a resulting solution which ‘belongs’ there both inside and out.  I can’t think of any building that I wish I had designed but can appreciate good design when I see it.  One of my favorite buildings is the old chemistry building built in 1916 which was designed by Barry Byrne who worked for Louis Sullivan in Chicago, Frank Lloyd Wright and Walter Burley Griffin.  Few people know about this little building but it is hidden away and in generally original condition.  Another building I enjoy in New Mexico was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright located in Pecos.  Again, few people know it is there which is fine by the owners who are relatives of the original client.”

Larry Tchogninou (student) and Prince.

New Mexico True

Mr. Prince and I chatted a bit more about his hopes for New Mexico, as well as its challenges. He has a love for his city and state, and wants to see it be the best it can be.

As we went back and forth, the question of why New Mexico came up. Like me, others have asked him why he isn’t an architect in Los Angeles, New York or some other big city. Why stay in New Mexico?

After college, Prince worked with Bruce Goff in Kansas City, and in Tyler, Texas. He’s built in California, but he “never considered moving there,” and worked in other places along the way.

He said he wouldn’t want to live in a city like New York or L.A. because he wanted to keep doing creative work and, “didn’t want to try and fit into an oversized, alien environment.”

Finally, he let me know a friend of his had a quote about New Mexico:

“New Mexico is much more accepting of creative work.” The friend that said this to Prince was none other than legendary artist Georgia O’Keeffe.

This is what I love about New Mexico: no matter how inspiring, odd, beautiful, unique, or just plain out of the ordinary something is, New Mexico seems to embrace it. For a state full of history, I have enjoyed people’s friendliness, openness and willingness to accept just about anything or anyone, provided they have the same open and accepting outlook.

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