Zimmerman Library, University of New Mexico
UNM Zimmerman Library

Date: 1938
Architect: John Gaw Meem

A sprawling array of tapered blocks looking out on a broad plaza, the University of New Mexico's Zimmerman Library is the best known work of John Gaw Meem, the man who did perhaps more than anyone to popularize Spanish-Pueblo Revival architecture in the United States. Meem came to New Mexico in 1920 seeking relief for his tuberculosis in the high desert air. The indigenous architecture inspired him, and he spent much of the rest of his life conforming Spanish-Pueblo design to the requirements of modern buildings. He built houses and civic buildings. He remodeled Santa Fe's La Fonda hotel and several pueblo churches, including those at Acoma and Laguna. In Spanish-Pueblo Revival, he found a style that permitted a building to fulfill its modern function while also proclaiming "that it is a part of New Mexico and nowhere else."

In 1933, Meem was hired to remake the campus of what was then known as the University of Albuquerque. Zimmerman Library was the centerpiece of his plan. Meem's original rendering of Zimmerman shows the entrance on the west side of the building, looking out on the duck pond, with one-story wings and a two-story central core stepping up to the nine-floor tower in the back. The recessed window strips of the tower recall the Pueblo Deco facade of Kimo Theater, just a couple of miles down the road in downtown Albuquerque. Zimmerman's walls were battered, or larger at the base and sloping inward toward the top—not for load-bearing purposes but as an homage to the historical roots of the architecture.

The ponderous, windowless blocks on the east side of the library were added later, and the main entrance was moved from the west side to a portal, or covered porch, on the south, plaza-facing side of the building.

While the outside of Zimmerman is relatively free of adornment, the interior contains lots of detail, including latillas, corbels, carved wood panels. wrought iron light fixtures and tin chandeliers.

Meem purportedly regarded Zimmerman as his finest work in the Spanish-Pueblo vernacular.