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Center gets homegrown attention

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Architect helps plan White Rock visitors facility

By Roger Snodgrass

What does an accomplished young student of architecture who is a native of Los Alamos do when he’s not out winning awards?

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Antonio Vigil, who graduated from the UNM School of Architecture and Planning in May, is bringing at least some of his skills back home.

Among current projects, he is now involved in the White Rock Visitors Center, working with Mullen Heller Architects in Albuquerque as an intern.

The firm has the contract for the visitors center and also designed the new Animal Shelter on East Road, which will open next week.

“I get to see a lot of aspects, because I’m working from the beginning to the end of a project,” Vigil said in an interview Monday.

Helping develop the visitors center’s initial phase, Vigil came back to Los Alamos last month when members of the public, members of a community advisory committee and county councilors met to discuss three potential models for the site.

Two of the models for an overall site plan, laying out where the major piece of the complex might be located, are now getting refined for presentation at a second meeting early next year.

According to county documents, the White Rock Visitors Center Complex has been envisioned as a thriving, active focal point that serves the community with a range of services and amenities.

“It’s a rather small building (about 3,000 square feet), but pretty important to be a catalyst for new major developments along the state road (NM 4),” Vigil said. “We’re trying to see how this can attract more tourists to the area as well as be a location for community events.”

The open space at the complex could accommodate additional outdoor events like a farmers’ market or a public concert series. The early plans are blocking out areas for picnicking and recreational vehicles along with retail space, pedestrian traffic and public parking.

“The community wants this to be something they can use, not just for visitors,” Vigil said. “The parking is meant to be buffered, not out on the streets. The buildings are closer to the street edge, getting away from the planning values that have been dominant in recent decades.”

Rather than having the street opening into a parking lot, with the buildings in the background, the newer conception tends to hide the parking behind the buildings, leaving the areas in the front of buildings for walkways and paths that are more pedestrian friendly.

“I really like working on public buildings and civic architecture, things that can make a statement in an area,” Vigil said.

Most recently Vigil’s master’s project took a first place in an international design competition at the ACADIA (Association of Computer Aided Design in Architecture) conference at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago). His project was an ambitious proposal for a downtown arena in Albuquerque and was accompanied by a presentation that the jury said, “could easily pass for a professional project.”

Last year, while still a graduate student, Vigil won an award for his vision of a recycling center for Albuquerque.

“I decided to make an icon of sustainability,” he told the Monitor at that time, bringing the recycling center out of its closet on the west side and putting it in the space that once housed “The Beach Waterpark.”

Little things, Vigil says, like the mix of materials or the pitch of the roof, can make all the difference in the world between a vital building and a conventional structure.

How that plays out in White Rock with Vigil on the case may deserve some extra attention.