Rio Grande Nature Center and Preserve
Albuquerque, New Mexico
1998


The Rio Grande Nature Center and Preserve is a symbol of a profoundly important, but rapidly diminishing New Mexico ecosystem. The open fields are vestiges of a beautiful pastoral setting which once stretched the length of the city. The natural wetlands still harbor a diverse set of environments that sharply contrast with those of the upland semi-arid mesas. Acquisition of the site by the State of New Mexico offered a unique opportunity to maintain the important connections between the city and the river, its symbiotic agricultural development and a prime wildfowl preserve located in a migratory fly way.

In response to these resources and intents, Antoine Predock developed the master plan for the Rio Grande Nature Center and Preserve. Environmental, legal, historical and recreational conditions were incorporated into the planning, phasing and design criteria established for the various components of the site.
Predock then designed an interpretive exhibition building for the 170-acre site, which was completed in 1982. The nature center acts as a unobtrusive ‘blind’ affording visitors discrete panoramic views of the wildfowl areas. Seen from the main approach, the berms and bunker-like perimeter structure of rough-formed concrete blend into the wooded environment.

There is an element of ‘river-edge vernacular’ to the building; an 8-foot diameter, corrugated drainage culvert forms and frames the tunnel entry into the center. Upon entering, visitors become aware of the salient feature of both the preserve and the building: vertical, 8-foot-high, water-filled tubes encircle a sunken, ramped exhibit and viewing area. Light shimmers through these tubes from skylights to create an underwater effect. The ramp descends physically and symbolically to allow views of the vast forage areas, the marshlands and a reverse-periscope underwater image of the pond. At each stage along the ramp, interpretive displays augment the views; similarly, the exhibits complement interpretive trails which lace the refuge.

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