A Glossary of Southwestern Architectural Terms

Adobe – made from mud, silty soil, clay and/or sand, mixed with water, poured into forms to make bricks, and left in the sun to dry. Additives to strengthen the mixture include: straw, manure, and asphalt emulsion.

Banco – a built-in plastered bench, typically in front of kiva-style fireplaces, along low walls, and under windows.

Canales – drain spouts, often decorative and made with wood or wood lined with sheet metal or roofing tar, that protrude through the roof parapet.

Casa – the Spanish word for “home.” A casita is a small, usually Southwest style cottage, either freestanding or attached to the main house.

Coping – a decorative and functional treatment to the top part of a wall, often made of kiln-fired bricks, originally to prevent erosion of adobe walls.

Corbels – large wooden brackets, often shaped and carved to be both functional and decorative, that support ceiling beams (vigas) and lintels.

Cornice – the ornamental molding, usually of wood or plaster, that runs around the walls of a room just below the ceiling or roof top.

Horno – a freestanding, chimney-less bread oven used by the Pueblo Indians of the Southwest. Like many elements of Southwestern style, the functional horno has become a vestigial ornament used to accent the patio or courtyard of suburban homes.

Kiva Fireplace – a small semicircular fireplace, usually built into a corner, apparently named for the round, flat-roofed ceremonial rooms of Indian pueblos. These fireplaces have indoor and outdoor variations, often with an attached bench (banco) – a classic icon of Santa Fe style.

Latillas – relatively straight, slender saplings (1½ to 2 inches in diameter), stripped of bark and laid across the log roof beams, or vigas, as decking. Latillas are laid perpendicularly between the vigas or diagonally to form a herringbone pattern.

Lintels – headers, or horizontal supports, above windows, doors, or other wall openings. Often rough-hewn wooden beams, lintels are left exposed as a design element and often feature designs hand-carved into the wood. The post-and-lintel system (two vertical posts supporting a horizontal beam) is one of the oldest means for constructing an entranceway.

Nichos – or wall niches, are recesses, usually arched or rectangular, in adobe style houses used to display religious objects, small sculptures, photographs, shrines, or small objets d’art.

Parapet – a low wall extending above the roofline. In modern design, a parapet often masks a slightly pitched roof, which prevents the leaky flat roof syndrome of older Pueblo architecture.

Portal – an attached, covered porch supported by posts with corbels and beams.

Pueblo – (Spanish for “village”) often refers to a communal dwelling built by the Pueblo Indians of the Southwest. The buildings were – and still are, in many cases – constructed of stone or adobe. The structures can tower up to five stories high and contain many individual family units.

Vigas – large (6- to 12-plus inches in diameter) usually peeled round logs used as ceiling beams regularly spaced across the width of the room. In traditional Southwestern (Santa Fe) architecture, the exposed interior vigas, along with latillas, decking, or even plaster, form a strong design element at the ceiling, and are often exposed outside, too, protruding through the exterior walls.