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 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.
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 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 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 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
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.
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