Architectural Elements of the Southwestern Style

Southwestern style begins with nature, and thus the elements and design of this region’s architecture is built organically – using materials from the land and dried by the sun. Due to several factors, such as availability of supplies, climate and geology, and cultural influences, people built by using surrounding resources.

Historical Elements

  • Native-American cultures trace their roots back over 1,000 years before the arrival of Spanish explorers. Some of the oldest Anasazi villages display the stone masonry and pine timbers so identifiable with this architectural style.
  • Settlers used local building materials, water, and wood and combined these resources with their limited knowledge of construction methods to build simple structures. Like their native predecessors, they learned to respect the region’s climate and terrain.
  • Buildings were simple and unadorned. Broad, massive walls were coated with stucco to protect the adobe from the blistering heat and the arid, unforgiving environment. Though modest in construction, the interiors of these structures remained stable and cool.

Historical Elements

  • With the arrival of the Spanish, plazas, arcades and interior courtyards and patios began to appear. When the railroad arrived in the 1880’s, architectural ideas and prefabricated materials weakened the regional flavor of the area. However, in the early 1920’s, traditional styles were revived with an emphasis on promoting a sense of regional cultural heritage. Simplistic designs of the past were re-introduced – including an open floor plan with an open relation to outdoor spaces, a heavy use of natural lighting, and minimal decorations.
  • A half-century later, when the environmental movement began to gain speed, the Southwest was at the forefront of research into appropriate responses to an arid desert setting. The Southwest experienced a resurgence in sustainable, organic, and energy-efficient construction.

Emergence of the “Spanish-Pueblo” Style

Combining elements from Spanish and Native American culture resulted in an architectural style often called “Spanish-Pueblo.” The natives used adobe, water, and wood to build, and the Spanish incorporated interior courtyards and portals, or porches, surrounded by single-story flat-roofed buildings.

Southwestern architecture evolved as a response to its culture and the climate. Its iconic yet simple adobe structures, silhouetted against the vast open skies, have long been a lure for photographers and artists for decades.

In this style, the simplicity of the past is perfectly joined with modern ecological concerns to present an architectural design that is both pleasing to the eye and environmentally friendly.