While many architectural styles in the United States took their inspiration from abroad, a few are largely home grown. The Pueblo Revival style, also known as the Santa Fe or Adobe style, is one of these. With roots in the traditional building methods of the Southwest’s native Pueblo people, this style is best known for its simple, geometric massing and adobe or stucco exteriors in shades that reflect the colors of the surrounding desert.
Ancient Techniques Get a Modern Update
For thousands of years, the indigenous people of the arid Southwestern United States built their homes using natural materials and techniques that kept the interiors cool all day and warm at night. The Taos-speaking Pueblo people are particularly well known for this style. When Spanish missionaries and territorial authorities arrived in New Mexico in the 17th century, they adopted the style for their own buildings. Santa Fe’s Palace of the Governors is an early example.
After this period, interest in Pueblo architecture lay mostly dormant among non-indigenous people until the late 19th century, when architects in California, such as A. C. Schweinfurth, began experimenting with the style.
From here, interest quickly spread to New Mexico and the Pueblo Revival style was born. The University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, founded in 1889, was one of the first buildings to incorporate Pueblo-style features in a major way. Its oldest buildings are still considered archetypes of the Pueblo Revival style, although later buildings take a more creative approach to the style.
After 1912, Pueblo Revival had thoroughly caught on in New Mexico and began spreading to ancestral Pueblo areas in Arizona and Colorado as well as to other western states without historical Pueblo populations.
Santa Fe, New Mexico became a hotspot for the Pueblo Revival style starting in the 1920s thanks to the efforts of city planners and architects, such as John Gaw Meem, who aimed to give the city a distinctive look rooted in its regional history. In particular, they wanted an aesthetic that would set them apart from the rapidly spreading Mission Style architecture of southern California. This desire for a new identity was helped along by the fact that New Mexico had gained statehood status in 1912.
The Pueblo Revival style became so strongly associated with Santa Fe that a law was passed to protect the city’s one-of-a-kind look. In 1957, the Santa Fe “H” Historical District Regulations Ordinance, better known as the Historical Zoning Ordinance, established a historical district in central Santa Fe. The ordinance is still in effect. Within the historical district, all new buildings must be built in an “Old Santa Fe Style,” which includes Pueblo-inspired styles.
Although Pueblo Revival hit the peak of its popularity in the 1920s and 1930s, it’s still commonly used throughout the Southwest. Today’s Pueblo Revival buildings often take a loose interpretation of Pueblo architecture and include elements from other architectural movements, but the Pueblo influence is still easy to see.
Simple Forms and a Connection to Nature
Pueblo Revival buildings feature a unique set of characteristics that make them immediately recognizable. Like traditional Pueblo buildings, they’re based on rectangular forms. Although the Pueblo people often built massive communal living spaces reaching up to five or six stories, most Pueblo Revival buildings are limited to one or two stories. When they are larger, they use the same stepped massing style of the originals, with stepped levels becoming progressively narrower toward the top.
The Pueblo people built their homes using adobe, a mixture of soil, organic material such as straw, and water. Their traditional method, known as puddled adobe, is a technique in which clumps of adobe are built up by hand. This creates thick walls that keep out heat during the day and insulate at night.
Spanish settlers helped speed up this process by supplying wooden brick molds. The word adobe, in fact, is Spanish for mudbrick. Nonetheless, the structures retained their traditional gently rounded corners rather than the 90- degree corners of typical brick buildings.
More recent Pueblo Revival buildings are usually made from commercially available material, but the rounded corners remain. These buildings might be clad in adobe plaster for a truly traditional look or, for something more modern, finished in stucco or concrete which is then painted in earth tones.
Like their predecessors, Pueblo Revival buildings feature large wood doors and small, unadorned rectangular windows set deeply into the walls. Rounded corners on the doors and windows reflect the corners of the exterior walls.
Roofs are typically flat with no overhangs and trimmed with parapets, or low walls along the roof edges, in varying heights. Rainwater drains through “canales,” or extended roof scuppers. On less traditional Pueblo Revival buildings, low-pitched tiled roofs are sometimes used.
Pueblo Revival buildings often feature “vigas,” or thick, exposed wood roof beams that extend past the roofline. In traditional Pueblo buildings, these beams support “latillas,” or laths, and the two together support the adobe roof. In Pueblo Revival buildings, the vigas are often only decorative. Vigas might be further decorated and supported by corbels underneath. First used on medieval cathedrals, corbels are a Spanish missionary addition to Pueblo-style architecture. Unlike elaborate medieval corbels, however, Mission Style corbels take simple, squarish forms.
Porches and patios, either open, covered or fully enclosed are a common component of Pueblo Revival buildings. They’re often supported by Spanish-style wood posts made from the same wood as the roof’s vigas.
Not all post-19th century buildings with Pueblo-style elements are true Pueblo Revival. The Pueblo Revival movement also gave rise to Pueblo Deco, which combines Pueblo features with the eclectic ornamentation of Art Deco.
Unique to the desert Southwest, the Pueblo Revival architectural style creates a sense of continuity between ancient and modern architecture and offers a connection to the local natural environment. Taking a closer look at the features of this style will give you a better understanding of how the region’s culture has developed over time.