lamesadevenn: Part One

lamesadevenn: Part One

By Seth Biderman
In this series, trace the story of lamesadevenn, a green live/work space in Santa Fe, New Mexico, created for two community groups, La Mesita and La Resolana. Rather than simply becoming a building that addresses the structural needs of the groups, lamesadevenn seeks to embody their values of sustainability, experiential education, and community involvement. Part 1: How it all began. Forget the architectural academics bespeckled in thick-rimmed glasses, arguing over theoretical issues or self-serving competitions—this isn’t a standard story, and these aren’t the usual suspects. This is lamesadevenn, a socio-architecture collaborative, an international “archimunity” of innovators stepping outside of their professional fields to explore common interests. Simply put: they're redefining how and why we design.

Christian Alba, your classic Gropuis groupie and Harvard GSD graduate dreams up the idea for lamesadevenn.

Alba began grasping at the idea in Cambridge, inspired by Walter Gropius and the CoBrA collaborations of times past. He hashed it out with Brendan in San Francisco, gave it a name in Valencia, Spain, and finally brought the concept to fruition in New Mexico.

Standing ankle-deep in snow, buzzing from the ideas of his fellow dreamers, Alba peered beyond the yellow spread of city lights, and realized this was it, this forgotten corner of the American Empire was where the Bauhaus spirit could be invoked.

They hail from diverse parts of the world, but have come together to rethink how we live on this planet—while we still can. Banking on the idea that innovation is the child of interdisciplinary collaboration, lamesadevenn is blowing up the traditional building process and inviting everyone to the planning table, actively seeking the involvement of non-designers and non-builders.

At the head of the table—la mesa—is Christian Alba, your classic Gropius groupie, a Harvard School of Design graduate who tossed away a dream job at IDEO in search of design that went beyond the corporate agenda. Overlapping his quest—the venn, as in Venn Diagram—are Santi Buraglia, his studio associate in Valencia, Spain; Bay area designer Brendan Callahan, Danish human factor specialist Morton Lundholm; visionary New Mexico attorney Todd Lopez; Christian Casillas, a renewable energy PhD candidate currently in Nicaragua; international Professor of Architecture Angus Eade; Nacho the comic artist; and a group of interested but leery Santa Fe neighbors.

The idea was born in the classrooms of Cambridge, where Alba gleaned inspiration from the collaborative spirit of Walter Gropius' Bauhaus, in which traditional genre lines were blurred as crafts merged with fine art, and the social-minded, experimental CoBrA art group of the late 1940’s. In both cases, Alba was drawn to the passion and vitality of people working together to create art, in contrast to the romantic but ultimately egotistical image of the "genius" working alone in his late night studio.

But bantering about collaboration in the classroom was one thing; realizing  it was quite another. 

He moved to Spain, set up shop with Buraglia, and together they came up with the name that embodied the spirit of the project, and formalized the philosophy. All they needed now was a pile of bricks and piece of land to turn their idea into reality.

In New Mexico, of all places, the opportunity arose. On a winter visit, Alba hooked up with another group of collaborators, an educational non-profit of similar ilk and name: La Mesita. Built on the dreams of two teachers, a lawyer, and a scientist, La Mesita sought to improve the quality of life in New Mexico by creating a hybrid school/sustainability research center/conversation forum/farm. They'd run a pair of successful summer programs but had stalled until Alba came along, that freezing Santa Fe night, and suggested it was time for La Mesita to get off the ground—and lamesadevenn was going to create the space that would help them do it.

Against their better judgment, the two groups of collaborators packed a few bottles of whiskey, donned their winter caps, and headed for the snow-thick foothills to talk it over proper. Clawing up the slopes, Alba explained that this project would be no spec house, no rec center. This project, he declared, would be nothing less than an effort to deconstruct compartmentalized views of what people do (the teachers teach, the scientist experiment, the architects design) and design a new way of living: a community based on genuine collaboration, where expertise would be openly shared, and problems approached holistically. Three hundred years of narrow-sighted specialization had gotten us into this eco-cultural pickle—extremism and sea levels on the rise, species and civility vanishing fast—a generation of good conversation was going to get us out.

They reached the top of Sun Mountain. It was silent, arctic cold, the sky thick with blue stars. Standing ankle-deep in snow, buzzing beside his fellow dreamers, Alba peered over the yellow spread of city lights. It was going to happen. Here, in this forgotten corner of the American Empire, he was going to give our Google-doped culture the good shaking it needed, invoke the Bauhaus spirit, and reinvigorate our badly wounded sense of community, collaboration and creativity.

Ethereal dreams to buckets of concrete: lamesadevenn's first project was about to begin.


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