Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Spanish Colonial Architecture Traits

One of the oldest intact (not "updated") houses in Taos
In 1540, 67 years before the founding of Jamestown, Virginia and 80 years prior to the landing at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts, the Spanish explorer Coronado was exploring what would become New Mexico, claiming her and her inhabitants for the Spanish Crown. With him, and in subsequent expeditions into the frontier, came Franciscan friars, whose charge was to lead as many of the natives as possible into the service of the church, and a number of settlers who would build a new empire by harvesting the efforts of the people and the land. The land wasn’t as giving as Coronado might have hoped, and eventually, in 1680, the indigenous peoples revolted against Spanish rule. Spanish settlement had, in fact, created more friction between the tribes, since harvests were given to the church and king, there was no food to trade amongst the indigenous peoples. Starving, and enslaved, the native people wanted no more of Spanish compassion. After the Pueblo Revolt, the Palacio Real or Governor’s Palace in Santa Fe was turned into and lived in as a pueblo for 13 years until de Vargas returned in 1693!

The resulting architecture became fortified, and was designed only to provide shelter. Any buildings that were built were supplied by either what could be obtained in the immediate vicinity or on the twice-annual wagon trains that arrived from Chihuahua, Mexico on the Santa Fe Trail. There was no money, as was copious in California or Texas, to do elaborate Mission Style churches or homes. There was no police force, no ruling authority, and for many years, nowhere near enough clergy to tend to the needs of the people, hence the evolution of the Penitentes, and the other major Hispanic contribution to New Mexican culture – cultural artifacts including santos, bultos, and retablos. By all accounts, New Mexico was still very much a “frontier.” From the mid-16th century through the late 19th century, the predominant architectural style in New Mexico was referred to as Spanish Colonial.

The Hacienda was the ideal form for its day - built around patio with portal around the inside or across one end of enclosure. The hacienda had very limited exterior openings which also caused somewhat of an interior focus. The Saguan, a covered room with a large gate on the outside face and an opening into the courtyard at the inside, allowed livestock and wagons inside in case of attack. The Spanish Crown had rules for size and shape of all elements. (i.e. patios had to be rectangular.) Elaborately carved woods and colorful paint at ceilings, arches, between rooms, or over doorways was usually reserved for the interior for maintenance reasons.

Spanish Colonial architecture is characterized by:

Structure, Walls, and Exterior
  • Constructed of thick courses of sun-dried adobe bricks – a technique the Spanish learned from the Moors
  • Constructed as one-story structures, with rooms linked together linearly and opening either into one another along one side or through a portal, or covered porch
  • Parapet walls
  • Walls covered with mud plaster or cement stucco
  • Extremely large facilities began to be built in L and U shapes, with a final goal of being squared around an enclosed courtyard as in the haciendas. This design was partly for protection but also served to maximize heat and cooling capacities.
  • Having a low-pitched or flat earthen roof supported by vigas and latillas, then eventually planks, sometimes painted or covered over with a bleached muslin. Better (metal not stone) tools = refined cutting of vigas, and these were sometimes rectangular.
  • Beehive-shaped raised corner fireplaces and chimneys constructed of adobe
  • Whitewashed interior walls, with gingham or similar fabric wainscot
  • Earthen floors, pounded with adobe mortar, then eventually planed wood, many covered with a native-made jerga, a black and white geometric cloth carpet.
  • Slightly larger spaces, as metal tools were introduced, making metal and wood detailing more easily attainable. The Spanish also preferred one large multifunction space to the many smaller single-use spaces that the Native Americans preferred.South-facing hillsides preferred for building locations, to protect buildings from the North and West winds and snow, and to maximize solar gain in winter.

  • Windows of selenite, mica, or oiled hides instead of just openings, covered with wooden shutters in some cases. Wooden grilles over openings mimic Spanish metal grilles
  • Multiple external doorways and few small window openings to dissuade Indian attack
  • Introduction of actual solid-slab wood Doors and wooden hinges 
  • Iron hinges and fixtures
  • Detailed crafting of corbels, doors, and beams
  • Rough hewn timbers and posts
  • Metals – iron and tin - came into fashion after the resettlement, as did some glass and cloth.
  • Bird and floral designs on altar cloths and now walls and glass derived from Oriental, Persian, and Moorish motifs
Old Sp-Colonial style walls in Taos
Note the addition of wall extensions above the original Sp-Colonial walls at the Kit Carson Home in Taos

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