Su Casa/AIA Albuquerque Residential Design Award Winner

into the Sandia skyline

Drawing inspiration from the soaring sky and the nearby Sandia Mountains, architect Cindy Terry designs an award-winning masterwork.

This article first appeared in Winter 2008 Su Casa

Platonic forms of cube and sphere are celebrated and manipulated in New Mexican architecture, in ancient structures at Chaco, and also in the masterpieces of Cindy Terry of Westwork Architects. Cindy’s talent blossomed out of a passion for the pure forms of nature to perhaps a respect for the more random, tectonic shifts of the earth, and this fusion is married to spectacular effect in her design for the McOlash residence in Albuquerque.

Numerous design awards seem to smother the front room conference and reception area at the Albuquerque office of Westwork Architects. Rolls of blueprints and construction drawings perch haphazardly everywhere. Cindy Terry’s drafting table hovers over the reception area and the architectural panorama of New Mexico.

Cindy and her late partner Glade Sperry grew Westwork Architects over the past quarter century into one of New Mexico’s premier design firms, redefining the Southwestern regional vernacular style and boldly fusing familiar brown stucco with vibrant color and imaginative sculptural geometry.

Principal architect and owner Cindy Terry is smiling and cheerful, even buoyant, as she prepares to discuss the stunning McOlash residence in the far eastern heights of Albuquerque.

“We finally got the design development for the Domenici project completed today.” Cindy beams as she pats the fat roll of drawings on the conference table. The cover sheet shows a purist, geometric, and Modernist design for the University of New Mexico’s Domenici Center for Neurobiological Research.

Glade’s untimely and sudden departure two years ago at age 57 has left a tremendous void at Westwork, but Cindy has persevered through the tragedy; the Domenici project is symbolic of her determination and commitment to the highest professional standards.

Designed more than five years ago in the fall of 2002, the McOlash residence is a 2007 Su Casa/AIA Albuquerque Residential Design award winner, and it also reveals some insights into Cindy and Glade’s collaborative design process. While the McOlash house is essentially Cindy’s design, Glade’s subtle touches helped produce the final result.

“Glade suggested that I use the Del Norte roof concept on the McOlash house,” Cindy acknowledges, referring to her design for Del Norte Credit Union about 10 years ago. The iconic design element of the soaring, detached roof slab appears to defy gravity at the same time that it acts as a pivot to the earth-hugging planes of the house.

“Yes, I used the floating roof and a torreón [tower] in the Del Norte Credit Union building in Española,” Cindy says. “But back then, I was in my Platonic geometry phase . . . the McOlash house is more tectonic.

“Glade used to describe the Sandia Mountains as tectonic plates shifting,” Cindy gestures, “and so I adopted his notion for the planar assembly of the McOlash house.” The detached roof canopy of the front façade floats across the Sandia Mountains landscape as it floats in and out of our conversation. It’s that powerful and subtle, a perfect polarity of voided form and sculptural gesture at the critical nexus of the design.

Contemplating the “floating” corner yields rich lines of inquiry and appreciation. The upward lift of the canopy is generated by massive, angular, “battered” walls and also the essential structural element of a slender, singular steel “pilotis” column.

Cindy’s explanation is true to New Mexico and evocative of the site. “The floating roof is meant to echo the movement of a cloud across the Sandias and the sky . . . and the battered walls have their roots at the Ranchos de Taos church [the historic San Francisco de Asis Church],” Cindy explains.
Glancing back at the walls of awards and photos of previous Westwork classics, I note that the voided corner of the McOlash design and also the rounded torreón of the master bedroom have previously appeared in other designs and compare the evolution of the “corner pivot” in several Westwork designs, the modulation between void and solid.

“You know, I’d have to say that I prefer to use a void in residential designs and a solid in commercial or institutional designs,” Cindy reflects. “It’s got something to do with the feminine nature of a home and the masculine energy of businesses. Also, public buildings need a ‘marquee’ form, and I’ve tended to use the torreón or the floating canopy.”

Cindy’s design vocabulary and philosophy are becoming more transparent, but there are surprises yet to come. Still transfixed by the corner, I admire the exposed concrete “pedestal” porch foundation and inquire about the limited use of concrete in the composition.

“The front [west] wall was really a challenge,” Cindy explains. “I had to fight [the neighborhood review committee] to keep the folded plane, and then I found out from our contractor, George Lewton, that the concrete ramp wall couldn’t be built . . . We had to build it out of frame and stucco.”

The “folded” plane describes a barely noticeable crease in the battered west wall of the McOlash house, where it flattens to perpendicular to meet the sky. The folded plane angles precisely to become a vector launching the roof plane from yet another angle. The sculptural nuance of the folded plane delights the intellect and eye.

Cindy points out that the battered walls also restricted the size of window openings, and the intended effect of the west and south walls was to convey a feeling of enclosure and protection. The house is wedded to the high-desert landscape by more than form.

“When we first started the project, the owners [Bryan and Caroline McOlash] brought in a shoe box of stuff from the site that they really liked,” recalls Cindy. “There were twigs, flowers and grasses, stones, and dirt. And that stuff guided our choices for colors and textures.”

The McOlash residence is actually organized around a rear courtyard that opens on to splendid views of the Sandias. Cindy admits that her residential courtyard designs are influenced by the great California Modernist architect Rudolf M. Schindler and specifically Schindler’s own Kings Road house and studio of 1922, built in West Hollywood.

The generous windows gracing the main living and dining room of the McOlash house evoke Schindler’s preference for floor-to-ceiling glass planes broken by carefully proportioned, minimal frames. The window patterns of the courtyard elevation, filtering luminescence, are a psychological and visual counterpoint to the massive sculptural confidence of the front façade.

Inside, the McOlash house is spacious and airy, and Cindy’s seamless Modernism is textured only by a few accents of maple cabinets, slate bathroom tiles, or black granite countertops. Though a 3,500-square-foot building, the interior has the more expansive personality of an “urban loft.”

Several years since it was completed, the McOlash residence represents a poignant expression of the power of true and inspired collaboration and also the maturing of Cindy Terry’s design philosophy and talents. Her skillful manipulation of both Platonic and tectonic virtues of form has yielded an expression of sculptural sophistication rendered poetic by the unforgettable gesture of a soaring canopy against the New Mexico sky.

Elmo Baca is a writer and consultant in economic development, historic preservation, and tourism.

Unless otherwise noted, businesses below are in Albuquerque, the area code is 505, and the prefix for websites is www.
Architect: Cindy Terry, AIA, Westwork Architects, 884-5252. Builder: George Lewton, Lewton Construction Company, 883-0073, lewtonconst@com Artwork: Acoma pottery by F. Aragon; wall hanging by Sandra Martinez, Martinez Studio, Jacksonport, WI, 920/823-2154, Cabinetry: Robert S. Pepper Cabinetmakers Inc., Santa Fe, 471-0500. Closets: Not Just Closets, 281-9435, Concrete: Chavez Concrete & Excavation Inc., 881-1330. Countertops: granite from Arizona Tile, 883-6076,; custom-made and installed by Rock of Ages Stone Fabrication. Doors: Pacific Mutual Door & Window, 823-2505, Dry wall: Elite Dri-Wall Inc., 314-8014, Earth moving: Apodaca Earth Moving Inc., 344-9493. Electrical: Mosher Enterprises, 828-1008. Electric fixtures: Border States, 344-1313. Fireplace: supplied by Builders Materials Inc., 247-4294,; manufactured by Majestic Fireplaces, Flooring: supplied by Arizona Tile, 883-6076,; tile flooring installed by The Tile Guys, 867-8006. Hardware: Cook’s Building Specialties, 883-5701. Heating & cooling: Thompson Heating and Air Conditioning Inc., 884-2675, thompsonheating Insulation: Duke Contractor Services, 344-3441, Ironwork: Lopez Ornamental, 843-9598.
Landscaping: The Hilltop Landscape Architects & Contractors, 898-9690, Lumber: Lumber Inc., 823-2700, Mirrors: Wholesale Mirror & Glass, 345-6246, Paint: Universal Painting & Decorating, 856-5543. Plaster & stucco: Mountain Shadows Construction Inc., 246-9077. Plumbing hardware & sinks: Dahl Wholesale Plumbing & Heating, 345-8587, Roofing: Best Roofing Inc., 242-3539. Table: black granite table custom-made by Rock of Ages Stone Fabrication. Wall system: frame and stucco construction. Windows: Andersen windows,, from Lumber Inc., 823-2700, Window treatments: Hunter Douglas,