Southwest Architecture

What Exactly is Southwestern Architecture?

Much like our landscape and culture, the traditional architecture of Southwestern New Mexico is unique and iconic. It is a style isolated to this region of the country and more prevalent in New Mexico than any other state.

Southwestern architecture is a broad category which is made up of a few different, distinct styles. These sub-styles represent historic eras and events. And learning about them can seem a little daunting at times. Pueblo, colonial, territorial, adobe, vigas, to newcomers and the uninitiated these words may be unfamiliar and confusing. Even many locals will buckle when asked: “what is Southwestern architecture?”

Don’t worry by the end of this article you won’t need to be an art history major to discuss the differences between Pueblo Revival and Territorial and you’ll be able to tell vigas from a latillas!

Glossary of Terms

Before we get too deep into the different styles that represent Southwestern Architecture let’s cover a few different terms that might be unfamiliar.

Adobe – refers to either a building style synonymous with Pueblo or the actual building material used in the construction of Pueblo-style walls. As a building material, adobe is a mud made up of clay, sand, and water. The mud is formed and then baked. Traditional adobe is no longer used. Instead, an adobe appearance is achieved through concrete stucco.

Canales – a Spanish term meaning little canals, these are troughs that were used to transport water off of the flat roofs of Pueblo-style buildings and away from the walls and foundation.

Coping – an essential aspect of Territorial Revival architecture, coping is a decorative and functional treatment to the top of a wall. Kiln-fired bricks are placed at the top of a wall to prevent erosion and water damage.

Kiva – a small semi-circle fireplace. While not discussed in this article, kiva fireplaces are such a neat aspect of Southwestern architecture I just had to mention them. These can be found inside a home or in the outer courtyard. They are skirted by bancos, plaster built benches and represent a very important part of a traditional pueblo home.

Latillas – a traditional method of using slender saplings to produce a roof. The latillas would be laid across the ceiling beams or vigas to create a platform.

Parapet – a low wall extending about the roofline of a flat roof building.

Ramada – a roofed shelter with usually open sides

Vigas – large, thick, roughly milled logs used as ceiling beams. The vigas are often exposed in all styles of Southwestern architecture. The ends of the vigas are visible on the exterior of the building jutting out from the wall.


Pueblo Revival/Santa Fe

We will start with Pueblo Revival because it is probably the most iconic of the styles that fall into the Southwestern category. The rectangular buildings with earthen colored walls, flat roofs and log ends jutting out through the adobe have become synonymous with our part of the world. Pueblo Revival, which is also called Santa Fe style because of its popularity in the city of the same name, is actually a combination of elements, styles, and technologies used in Pueblo, Spanish Colonial, and Mission architecture.

The word Pueblo is the Spanish for town. During the Spanish exploration of what is now the Southwestern United States, explorers discovered massive and complex housing structures, similar to the apartment complexes of today. Built by native people of the region, these buildings could house entire tribes. The largest was home to nearly 1000 people. Given that at this time most European towns had populations under 1000, the Spanish explorers called the housing complexes towns, or in Spanish, pueblos.

Pueblo-style was popular out of necessity. It used readily available resources, required minimal tools and provided shelter for multiple inhabitants from the elements and enemies. As a time period, Pueblo dates back to 750 AD and was popular until the 1800’s when Europeans began to settle in the region.

Pueblo Revival, on the other hand, is focused on a unique sense of style and beauty. It uses building materials and techniques found in Spanish Colonial and Mission architecture but takes its design principles from the original Pueblos.

Pueblo revival became popular in the early 1900’s and continues to be used in new construction today. A typical Pueblo Revival building uses earth-colored stucco, which resembles the traditional building medium adobe. It consists of rounded corners, brick floors, and a flat roof with a parapet wall. Water is diverted off of the flat roofs by large troughs called canales, which protrude through the parapet wall.

The exterior walls are dotted by ends of logs, called vigas that are used as support for the roof which in some buildings are exposed and visible inside.

The revival style also borrowed elements from Spanish Colonialism, which sought to include more open-air spaces. The buildings include courtyards, long narrow porches and, covered patios.

An offshoot of Pueblo Revival is Pueblo Deco, which fused traditional Pueblo with Deco style coming out of Paris in the 1920’s. Metal art and tile murals are indicators of a Pueblo Deco building.

Territorial/Greek Revival Style

Territorial architecture represents a style popular in New Mexico from 1848 – 1912. During this time New Mexico was a territory, it became a state in 1912. What was going on in New Mexico during those decades? A Lot of immigration. The American Army arrived in Sante Fe in 1846 and Anglo settlers followed them. The settlers brought with them construction techniques, tools, and building styles that resembled that of Europe.

Pitched roofs, columns, brick, trim, these were the flavors of the time. But there was a problem, brick, lumber, and glass weren’t yet readily available. The solution was to use the fashionable materials sparingly.

While Pueblo Revival is a mix of Pueblo and Spanish Colonialism, Territorial is a mix of Pueblo and Greek. Adobe walls and architecture were adorned with trim around windows and doors. Decorative shutters were tacked onto walls.

Brick had to be imported via the Santa Fe Trail, a very costly process, making it too expensive to be a primary building material. Instead of brick walls, brick coping was added to the tops of adobe walls.

The round tree trunks used to construct vigas and columns were substituted for square, milled lumber. And finally, the iconic flat roofs and canales were replaced with what is the more common pitched roof.

Contemporary Southwest

While Territorial Revival dominated until the 1920’s and Pueblo Revival and Pueblo Deco, ushered New Mexico through the gilded-age, homes, and buildings constructed after World War 2 fall into a category known as Contemporary Southwest.

Contemporary Southwest Architecture employs modern building materials such as glass, concrete, and steel while paying homage to the history and culture of this great state. It has influences from Pueblo with walls resembling adobe, from Spanish Colonialism often including courtyards, and territorial influence in the way of slightly pitched roofs and wood trim and columns.

Contemporary homes are unique and beautiful while being modern and comfortable.


The more you learn about New Mexico the more you realize what a truly unique and spectacular place it is. Our landscape, our culture and it’s traditions, our history, all these things have gone into shaping a one-of-a-kind architectural style.

After reading this I hope you are a little more comfortable when it comes to Southwestern architecture. If you in the market for a new home you can now identify a Pueblo Revival from a Territorial Revival. At La Paloma Real Estate we specialize in beautiful and unique Southwest homes. Have a look at our residential listings and you will be dazzled by adobe walls, vigas, and courtyards, and after having read this you will be able to explain what it is exactly you are looking at.