A smooth, white adobe wall curves into a window niche.

What’s New Is Old for Taos Architecture

Architects in Taos Find Tomorrow’s Design Informed by the Past

- | 4 min read

Henry Architects Find A Sense of Place

When it comes to what makes a place, history is important.  One must always look deeper to the layers underneath that form the foundation to see clearly. Here in Northern New Mexico, the ground literally unearths itself. Tectonics, geology and time work passively to reveal the layers at the surface without having to dig. This also applies to contemporary design in Taos, at Henry Architects.

A Change in the Landscape

“It’s been very busy since Covid,” says Alix Henry, owner and architect. “People spending a lot more time inside made them rethink their home environment. Plus, not being able to travel meant being able to invest in renovations and additions they might not have had the opportunity to do, let alone focus on. People became more flexible about how they approached work and realized Taos could be a fit – our field has benefited greatly from this shift.”

A Sustainable History

Alix brings her expertise on sustainable design and research in what she describes as architectural “thermal aesthetics” to Henry Architects. She started the firm in 2008, with husband David joining in 2013. David is himself a 4th generation New Mexican with a focus on solar. Combined, the two have over 65 years of architectural design and construction experience.

“Architects have a lot of power to influence how people use water, electricity and power, and spaces and we take that responsibility seriously and passionately. Passive solar design and low-impact architecture are essential considerations at the outset of every project,” Alix says. “Taos has a unique and diverse history of living with alternative systems — people improvising, thinking differently and an openness to new ideas. That’s why I moved in the first place! When you think about the timeline, the longest continually inhabited building in the United States is the Pueblo. The braintrust here runs deep.”

Alix arrived in 1995 to work with Earthship Biotecture (formerly Solar Survival Architecture). She also lived in an earthship for 6 years — Dennis Weaver’s place above Valdez.

“I was in my early 20s and living off grid in a beautiful building that totally worked,” she reflects. “I was lucky to have this experience early in my career. It’s not for everyone and you need to know how to make these systems work. It’s like a living breathing organism with body systems; the cooling tubes and passive skylight to exhaust the heat of the room passively. We have such beautiful natural light in Taos and understanding how the sun can add to the quality of spaces if you can bring it in in the right way is key. We can apply those concepts to a number of different architectures and improve them to modern day standards of sustainable construction with better, more responsibly managed materials.”

Art + Architecture

Henry Architects is based in Arroyo Seco, a small village in the heart of our geography, geology and microclimate. This positions them at an ideal vantage point for projects and perspective. The studio-style, open plan office with high ceilings and lots of light hinges on Alix’s masters thesis. The literal backdrop hangs on the far wall. This 6×6 collage charts sustainability in design and architecture over time which she completed in Copenhagen. The artwork is a guiding doctrine and reminder of how the past influences the present.

Alix Henry, architect in Taos, points to an art collage representing sustainable architechture.

Small but Mighty

With two licensed architects, two architectural interns and a bookkeeper, Henry Architects can run lean and can pay close attention to the work. Because they are a small shop they can be more nimble and choose the projects they want to do.

A modern, light and bright office with a traditional woven rug on display.

From commercial builds like Taos Mesa Tap Room and pro-bono work for Taos Community Foundation, where Alix is chairman on the board, to multi-million dollar jobs like the Taos High School renovation and Couse-Sharp Foundation, what has evolved into a broad range of clients is an accumulation of experience that informs future work and makes it smarter, better. Meanwhile, private residences can be anything from a small deck addition, to the renovation of an A-Frame up in Ski Valley, like the Spruce House.

A wooden A-frame cabin surrounded by tall fir trees and a thick layer of snow.

Being Architects in Taos

“The client wanted it to be rustic, and we love the opportunity to reuse old materials when it functionally makes sense for the context of the environment,” Alix recalls. “They bought the house and it was gut remodeled. We ended up using Elmwood Reclaimed Timber for re-milled old wood. You can see the nail marks. Everyone dumps their ski gear anyway, and you don’t notice a scratch, because it was already lived in to begin with!”

As winter was winding down, we visited a current project that Alix is excited about just up the road from the office near El Salto, now flanked in white pillows of fragrant native plum blossoms.

A bee on plum blossoms and an adobe house under construction.

“We love being able to use adobe in modern ways and this property is a great example,” she explains. “It is a natural material that has high thermal mass and is endemic to the region. We also are using it for kiva fireplaces, crafted by local mason Robert Medina who lives minutes away. One of the best parts of the job is getting the opportunity to work closely with local artisans that are masters of these traditional techniques.”

A kiva fireplace, made from adobe bricks, under construction.

Be an Early Bird!

Now is building time — you want to start in the spring and be constructing midsummer and fall. The realities of the supply chain these days require a slightly longer timeline and creative thinking for solving related challenges.

“We work in a lot of different stages and staggered,” Alix says. ”We currently have four under construction and others in the design phase up on boards. Everyone’s busy and it’s never too early to get started for next year! It’s never good to rush and taking the time to do things right pays off. If you want to build something next year, now is the time to think about it.”

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