La Luz: The Light on the Mesa
This West Side cluster development was hailed upon opening in 1969 as a courageous attempt to show how land can be improved by development, housing can be clustered without being cramped, and architecture and planning can support conservation.
La Luz is Albuquerque’s world-famous unknown place. People here pay almost no attention to it, despite its trunk full of medals and plaques and virtually endless stories of praise in major architectural magazines from 1969 to the present. Its renown and local obscurity are linked to the same thingits beautiful humility. An almost invisible residential oasis, La Luz is strongly New Mexican, elegantly modern, inspiringly simple, and respectful of the land. Its residents love it so much and take such good care of the place that it looks even better today than it did 32 years ago when the first of the cluster homes were up for sale.
As the first major project of architect Antoine Predock, a designer known internationally for his ability to adapt his work to the cultural and climatic dictates of any locality, La Luz remains one of modern Albuquerque’s major contributions to world architecture. Yet, sadly, it has had virtually no impact on other developments as an example of how to build homes while conserving open space.
You drive on Coors Boulevard south of Paseo del Norte to get to La Luz. It’s not hard to findif you’re looking for it. First you’ll see on the east side of the road a small island of low adobe townhouses set deeply and serenely into the sand hills and contours of the mesa, not perched upon the landscape.
Cottonwoods and Russian olives further camouflage and protect the clustered dwellings from the mayhem of the highway. The development’s very modesty gives it an unselfconscious eloquence. Even from a distance, you can tell that La Luz has the best view of the Sandia, Manzano, and Los Pinos mountains of any site in town.
Driving into La Luz, as I have off and on for the last 25 years, one can see immediately what the architect and developer wanted to achieve. Ninety-six homes are clustered on some 42 acres of developed land at the edge of a 500-acre parcel of wide open spaces. Each dwelling has complete privacy, protected outdoor space, and connections to communal patios and placitas. La Luz residents have both the security of community and the luxury of seclusion. Obviously a modern development, La Luz incorporates the best of Spanish, Mediterranean, New Mexican, and even Pueblo site planning and design, but without the typical Southwestern decorative appliquéthough La Luz’s exterior color scheme is a traditional dark adobe, or La Luz brown, with white trim.
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Homeowners have created many unique gardens, often using xeriscape plantings like the white lavender and Russian sage here. The fountain is from Stone Forest, Santa Fe.