A glossary of common Santa Fe architecture terms

Santa Fe style is a term that has been bandied around for a while. Our city has a unique Old World look that starts with the city’s distinct architectural style. After all, it’s called The City Different. The first Europeans who arrived here were from Spain. They brought cultural and architectural elements that came from the Moors who had ruled Spain for centuries. The building style here also owes a great debt to the indigenous Pueblo people. Overall, Santa Fe architecture is multicultural and shows the influence of all the city’s distinct historical periods.

The Oldest House photo Stev Collins

The Pueblo style;e Oldest House (in the U. S.). in Santa Fe, photo/ Steve Collins

The city is an amalgam of different architectural eras. This is most evident in the city’s historic neighborhoods that surround the downtown Plaza area. Original pueblo-style adobe construction is found in buildings that date to the Spanish Colonial and Mexican periods. With the opening of the Santa Fe Trail and the Territorial period, red, began to arrive from the east used to create dentil molding just below the roof lines. The “Territorial style” has other neo-classic features including brick surrounds for doors and windows and triangular lintels over windows and doors. The late 19th and early 20th century brought Queen Anne houses and Arts and Crafts bungalows. During the Pueblo Revival period that followed, many of these were stuccoed to conform to the hot “new” pueblo style. You can still find some of these houses in their original states, especially in the South Capital district.

The “Pueblo Revival” movement brought the term “Santa Fe style” into the architectural lexicon. While it started in the early 20th century, its heyday was in the 1920s and 30s. Architect John Gaw Meem is often called “The Father of Pueblo Revival.” He certainly made his mark on the city.

The gate at theRoque Tudesque House on DeVargas Street, phoyo Steve Collims

The gate at theRoque Tudesque House on DeVargas Street, photo/Steve Collins

All buildings in the historic area must conform to the Historic Zoning Ordinance. Each proposed new building or any changes to existing ones must come before the Historical Zoning Board for approval. While there is a bit of a Disneyesque feeling to new buildings with faux mud exteriors, for the most part, the ordinance helps the city to hold onto its historical roots.

Other details that make Santa Fe homes distinctive are the colorful doors, gates and window trim. Properties are often surrounded by coyote fences or adobe walls creating privacy for those within.

You may hear architectural terms here that you would be hard-pressed to find in most other places in the country. If you are at all interested in buildings, want to move here or love to learn, here is a glossary of frequently used Santa Fe architecture terms.

Adobe detail at Oldest House in the U.S photo Steve Collins

Adobe detail at Oldest House, photo Steve Collins

Adobe is the term bricks made from clay mud and straw. They are still made today. The liquid mixture is poured into forms and left to dry in the sun. They are used to construct buildings or walls. The exterior of the completed structure is then covered with a mud and straw mixture to protect them from the elements. Inside, they are covered a hard-finished plaster.

Banco a built-in plastered bench traditionally covered in hard-finished plaster and often found adjacent to fireplaces or under windows.

Canales corbels and vigas at Palace of the Gopvernors in Santa Fe photo Steve Collins

Canales, corbels and vigas can all be seen on the Palace of the Governors, photo/Steve Collins

Canales are wooden drain spouts used to drain water from the traditional flat roofs found in Pueblo architecture. They are the local equivalent of gutters.

Casita (meaning little house) is a small house (or guest house) often found behind the main house on a properly.

Corbels are large carved wooden brackets that support the ceiling beams.

Hornos are out door oven found in Santa Fe and northen NM photo Steve Collins

A pair of hornos, photo/Steve Collins

Hornos are bee-hived shaped outdoor ovens that arrived with the Spaniards. They are still used by the Pueblo people for bread-baking.

Kiva fireplace are small, shallow, circular adobe fireplaces usually built into the corner of the room. They are named for the round ceremonial chambers used by the Pueblos peoples for ceremonial gatherings.


Latillas are the saplings tha

A modern kiva fireplace photo Steve Collins

A modern kiva fireplace, photo Steve Collins

t are laid across the roof beams (vigas) and form the ceilings in traditional adobe homes. They are either laid perpendicularly or diagonally to the beams.

Nichos, are recesses, in walls that were (and still are) used to display religious art such as bultos (carved saints) and other religious objects. Today they are also used to display small objects of all sorts.

Portal is an attached overhangs used to shade a home or other buildings from the hot high desert sun.

Vigas are the beams that support the roof. Traditionally they extend past the exterior wall. You can also see them inside the home, This distinctive architectural feature is common in historic homes and are also frequently included in new home design.

Geronimo on Canyon Road has Territorial details photo Steve Collins

Geronimo on Canyon Road is a Territorial style building, photo/Steve Collins

Now that you know these common Santa Fe architecture terms lingo, walk around the historic areas of the city and see how many of the exterior features you can spot. You’ll spot many of the interior features mentioned in historic public buildings, local stores, restaurants and lodgings. These old buildings are an important part of the Santa Fe mystique.

If you are interested in old homes and hidden gardens you may enjoy this post:
Behind adobe walls and coyote fences: touring Santa Fe homes and gardens

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5 Responses to “A glossary of common Santa Fe architecture terms”

  1. Lance | Trips By Lance
    October 14, 2019 at 9:49 am #

    We loved looking around at the beautiful architecture while in Santa Fe last week. It’s such a beautiful area.

    • Billie Frank
      October 15, 2019 at 7:22 am #

      I took a quick look at your blog, Lance. I saw some NM photos. Will have to read the posts later. Glad you enjoyed the architecture. It’s one of the things that makes me pinch myself every day and the mountain views! Come see us again. Hasta luego!

  2. Agness
    October 14, 2019 at 5:58 pm #

    The red door - my favorite one! I love the charming houses as well 🙂

    • Billie Frank
      October 15, 2019 at 7:18 am #

      We love that red door in the gate, too. It’s very Santa Fe!

    • Billie Frank
      October 15, 2019 at 7:23 am #

      We love that gate and red door, too. A favorite!

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