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From the earliest pithouses constructed more than 15 centuries ago by Ancestral Pueblo people, humble earthen clay and straw have endured the test of time to become the state’s iconic building material. Beautifully weathered adobe walls glow with sunrise and sunset hues, casting a warm radiance that is poetic to many.
Over the centuries, this organic and malleable mud has been transformed by all New Mexican cultures, including Native American, Spanish, American and others. These various influences, as well as the creativity of professional designers and architects, have yielded many variants of “adobe architecture.” Some examples have departed from traditional building materials, but the influence of the traditional style is undeniable.
On New Mexico’s MainStreets, the many adobe styles are lovingly maintained, offering residents and visitors unique streetscapes and cultural compounds with deep roots in the region’s history.
Contemporary Pueblo communities incorporate ancient adobe architecture along with several historic architectural styles in their communities, reflecting long historical development. Adobe has been transformed by the influences of Spanish Colonists and American building materials often seen in churches and mission complexes, along with more recent commercial buildings and housing developments.
The arrival of Spanish colonists in 1598 with the Oñate expedition introduced many new materials and building technology innovations to transform adobe walls. These included structural wood, iron, and bricks, as well as architectural forms such as arches, buttresses, gates, and horno fireplaces. European concepts of house types such as courtyard houses were introduced. Plaza centered villages and towns are a legacy of the long Spanish Colonial period (1598-1821).
After a brief Mexican period, (1821-1846), New Mexico became an American Territory. The U.S. Army quickly built forts at Fort Marcy in Santa Fe and Fort Union north of Las Vegas, where popular Greek Revival style elements were adapted to adobe architecture. The classical porches, windows and brick cornices, often painted in white and green colors gave an elegant and refined profile in contrast to the earthen walls. Territorial buildings were built nearly everywhere in the state until statehood was achieved in 1912.
The popular Territorial style of the 1860’s and 1870’s evolved in the Twentieth Century as modern building materials became common. Reinforced concrete and cast concrete structural elements enabled larger and more monumental buildings. The New Mexico state capitol, county courthouses, and other office buildings located in Santa Fe have adopted the Territorial Revival style. Many businesses in urban centers such as Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces favored the Territorial Revival style for commercial uses.
This unique blend of Pueblo and Spanish adobe architecture and modern building techniques such as stucco, reinforced concrete, fabricated windows and doors is commonly known as the “Santa Fe Style.” Inspired by artists and writers and designers who migrated to Santa Fe and Taos after 1900, the style was first introduced in Santa Fe at the Museum of Fine Arts and La Fonda Hotel after 1915. The style has since been adopted by the University of New Mexico and other great institutions.
Art Deco, symbolic of the Jazz Age of the 1920s, made its debut in Paris in the early 1920s, and it didn’t take long for clever architects and designers to create deco inspired ornament for adobe buildings. The highly decorative and colorful style easily interacted with traditional Pueblo and Navajo designs to produce bold and unique expressions. The Pueblo Deco style is most famously on display at the KiMo Theater in Albuquerque and the McKinley County Courthouse in Gallup.
Spanish Catholic priests led massive building projects in the 17th and 18th Centuries to erect mission churches in Pueblo communities throughout New Mexico. Some mission churches and pueblos were abandoned due to drought and warfare. New Mexican mission churches are distinguished from other Spanish mission architecture in California and Texas primarily by the extensive use of adobe and not hard fire bricks. After the Santa Fe Railroad adopted the Mission style for its many buildings about 1900, the Mission style was revived and became immensely popular in the Southwest and elsewhere.