Architectural Feature: El Camino Real International Heritage Center

2018 Architecture + Community Award Winner
For newer buildings or sites completed within the last 50 years
that have made our community stronger.

A joint endeavor between the State of New Mexico and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the museum and visitor center is located 26 miles south of Socorro, New Mexico, at a remote and pristine site within view of the historic route of El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the Royal Road, and other historically significant natural landmarks in the distance.

El Camino Real played a critical role in establishing and sustaining the commerce of settlements and mines of Northern Mexico, now the states of Chihuahua and Durango, as well as the venerable missions, presidios, and colonial settlements of New Mexico. For thousands of years prior to being named El Camino Real, the trail served as the trade route for ancient peoples—the Anasazi and later, Pueblo Indians. El Camino Real was a dynamic agent of change, altering the history, population, ecology, and economy of Northern Mexico and the southwestern United Sates.

The Heritage Center building concept is metaphorically like a ship forging uncharted waters; its mast and bow remaining constant, providing direction to the New World. The structure honors the 600 years of travel, the arduous journey from Mexico City, the point of survival out of the Jornada del Muerto, the Journey of Death and ending in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The building is expressed as an unfettered line, from initial entry, through its interior, and out to an observation deck, suspended over the Rio Grande Valley on the mesa’s edge. Traversing the desert landscape, visitors may view the Rio Grande Valley, the dramatic backdrop of natural landmarks, and the historic trail beyond, virtually untouched, in much the same manner as did the conquistadors, missionaries and merchants over six centuries ago. The interior exhibits follow a similar linear sequence, a time line, providing for a holistic visitor experience.

With the premise that the story of El Camino Real is not only about the past, but also the present and future, the building form, shape, detailing, and use of materials achieves a timeless architectural expression. The exterior is clad in split face masonry with bands of darker, smoother units to reinforce its linearity. The south façade is interrupted with a smooth, graceful curving shape reminiscent of a sail, to further the ship metaphor.

Project Name: El Camino Real International Heritage Center
Construction Date: 2003
Architect: Dekker/Perich/Sabatini
Address: 2300 East County Road #1598, San Antonio, NM (map)

Images courtesy of architect

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