Part three of our series looking at the architecture of Santa Fe.

In 1846, the United States Army claimed all of New Mexico and established an outpost in Santa Fe. Trading routes were well established by then, including the Santa Fe Trail, with Santa Fe literally at the end of the trail. By the time the Americans arrived, it was a thriving industry introducing new goods, products, building materials and building styles. Add to this the Army’s import of Santa Fe’s first power saw, and a new building aesthetic was born: the Territorial Style.

Fitting for the military, their contribution to the architectural fabric of Santa Fe was rooted in the Greek Revival. Elements from this movement adorned adobe structures, such as square portal posts often with details recalling the Greek orders, brick coping details and pediments. This level of adornment and precision had never been seen before in adobe structures. Yet it is as if the adobe, in its fluid manner, allowed these elements to meld in. The result is a distinct style that is still very Southwestern, very Santa Fe.

Not completely devoid of functionality, this new style often included a pitched roof of either shingles or metal. It would become a definitive architectural element throughout northern New Mexico, as it shed rain and snow much more effectively than a flat adobe roof.

Territorial Military Building Santa Fe

Ultimately the bustling trade routes were bulled over by the railroad, and another level of modernization swept across Santa Fe and the west. Though not a stop on the direct line, by the 1880’s Santa Fe was connected to the Union Pacific Railway. This connection coincided with New Mexico’s efforts to attain statehood. Santa Fe embraced the hasty influx of manufactured building products brought by rail for a whole slew of building styles: Victorian, Italianate, Queen Anne and more. The East encouraged a complete exoneration of adobe, in favor of what was viewed as ‘American;’ officials in Santa Fe complied. Many civic and commercial buildings were simply covered up in a new style, and new homes completely foreign to the Santa Fe context sprung up. But no new style took great hold, instead much of Santa Fe evolved into a disparate hodge-podge of appliqué, and the town wound up in the midst of an architectural identity crisis.

Not helping the situation was an economic downturn due to the departure of the US Army and the re-direction of most rail commerce to stops along the main line, such as Albuquerque and Las Vegas (that’s Las Vegas, NM not NV). City officials needed to revive Santa Fe, but how was the question. Boosting tourism seemed a viable option. Tourism was not new to Santa Fe. There had already been a rush to the Southwest in the 1850’s thanks to Fred Harvey’s promotion of his hotels and restaurants along the rail lines, which included the La Fonda Hotel in the heart of Santa Fe. But rail was no longer a resource for ample commerce. Santa Fe was due for its own unique draw.

Just as Santa Fe was ‘losing itself’ a particular population of new residents started to embrace what was being lost. Many artists and writers were travelling west ”” and specifically to Santa Fe ”” for a variety of reasons: some sought the fresh, dry air for health reasons; some escaped urbanity and industrialization; some searched for a new way of life; they all embraced the remarkable surroundings, the quality of the light, the unique environment. Santa Fe offered all of this and more: a more organic existence; intense beauty in the landscape; rich creative and crafts traditions. It was a huge departure from anything they had ever known. They decreed to bring back the old Santa Fe.

Incidentally, this was the period of the City Beautiful Movement across the US, from 1900-1910. The backlash of industrialization created a desire for nature, peaceful harmony and beauty. Cities were encouraged to re-beautify. Santa Fe’s city leaders took the opportunity to revive Santa Fe’s indigenous architecture and the city’s old-worldliness, which so appropriately lent itself to the mission of the City Beautiful Movement. They worked with the artist community and others to restore and preserve Santa Fe’s distinct architectural heritage. The approach was unlike other cities, so instead of ‘City Beautiful,’ Santa Fe was coined the ‘City Different.’ Here was a distinct draw for tourists.

City officials and artists may have had different motives for reviving Santa Fe, but both parties were passionate about bringing her back and keeping her back. An official vernacular was developed, culling elements from Santa Fe’s past, to make up what would officially become ‘Santa Fe Style’ and ‘historic.’ Buildings re-configured to be ‘Americanized’ were brought back to their original state. New construction now had a set of guidelines which were rigidly enforced, especially in what was deemed the historical section of town. And in this ‘historical zone’ only two styles of architecture were allowed, period: Spanish/Pueblo Revival and Territorial Revival.

As part of this effort to clearly define Santa Fe style, the Museum of New Mexico searched for buildings which embodied Santa Fe style. One such building was a supply store in Morley, Colorado. Not even in the state of New Mexico, but it was inspired by the San Esteban del Rey Mission Church at Acoma Pueblo, a New Mexican pueblo still thriving today. Its most distinctive feature is the pair of towers flanking the front faà§ade. Other details were quintessential Santa Fe Style, such as exposed vigas, canales, and portals. The overall design became a pinnacle of Santa Fe Style, replicated in massing and detail time and again. The architectural plans were even used to create the New Mexico Building for the Panama-California Exposition in 1915.

Santa Fe Style Icon

Santa Fe Style Icon

More recent renditions of Santa Fe Style have increased in scale and complexity, as technology has allowed and as the city has allowed, at times it hasn’t. Many architects dedicated their entire careers to exploring Santa Fe Style, their works becoming part of the legacy. Projects through the past 100 years embrace Santa Fe Style, but it must be remembered that by 1912 the style was just that, a style. And as a style, it is a visual aesthetic. Architectural and structural integrity no longer come into play with such necessity as in the past.

Adobe construction now consists of cement block or wood framing filled with concrete, finished with layers of lath and plaster and paint. As a result even large scale projects such as hotels and hospitals can be built in the Santa Fe Style. Tom Ford ”” a native Santa Fean ”” has his 40,000 square foot ‘adobe home.’ I’ve never seen it in person, but I’ve googled it, and it too carries the forms and elements of the local vernacular. There are entire residential developments taking a contemporary spin on Santa Fe Style, and high modern interpretations.


Inn at Loretto, Santa Fe

Contemporary Adobe Construction

Modern Adobe Construction

Modern Architecture

The driving factors from which Pueblo architecture arose were limited by building technology of the time and by pure necessity. These factors were rendered irrelevant through the course of time, and some would argue that the pure architecture has been lost. However, the origins of an earthy austerity and sculptural sense still exist. You can feel it.

The elements integrated with these origins culminate into Santa Fe Style. It is a mixture, ‘una mezcla,’ as eclectic as its population. Worthy of preserving, but only recognized as such when its necessity no longer existed. It was brought back and preserved out of desire.

‘You’re not going to make them look new are you?!!”  our neighbor asked when she learned we were repairing a few old sheds out back. But of course not! The legacy continues, perpetuating a built environment which recalls the magic of Santa Fe, the old-worldly, other-worldly.

Santa Fe, the City Different.

For further information the following books are fantastic: The Essence of Santa Fe, New Mexico Style, La Casa Adobe, Southwestern Colonial Ironwork

For the first installment of this chronicle click here.

All black and white photographs are courtesy of  the New Mexico History Museum Photo Archives.

Follow Untapped Cities on Twitter and Facebook! Get in touch with the author @kerispiller.

We return to our look at Santa Fe architecture  just as the Spaniards have arrived…

As with all Spanish Colonial settlements, the location and layout of Santa Fe was based on the Laws of the Indies. Among its many dictates was the creation of a central plaza for both social and military use, and most importantly the establishment of a church as the plaza’s main focal point. Civil buildings and prestigious residences circled the rest of the plaza. This plaza was the heart of town. By design it purported a place for socializing, commerce and public events. A grid of streets surrounded the plaza, with agricultural fields and the Santa Fe river fanning out beyond. This outer area would evolve into rural neighborhoods with a winding series of dirt roads, many of which are still dirt roads today.

Another dictate of the Laws of the Indies was to settle a safe distance from any natives. When Santa Fe was founded, the nearest Pueblo Indians were located roughly 25 miles to the north. But this didn’t hinder interface between the two cultures and facilitated the evolution of adobe construction. The Spaniards adopted and standardized adobe construction by creating a brick and mortar system using mostly the same materials. Adobe bricks were created in wooden molds and left to dry in the sun. These uniformly-sized bricks were then laid up in mud mortar with greater efficiency. Standardized, yes, but still possessing the inherent qualities of adobe: organic and sculptural.

Adobe Home

The Spaniards also brought canales  to adobe construction. A rather crude gutter system, these canals were originally carved-out tree logs, and lay across the parapet of the flat roof, allowing for proper drainage of water. Santa Fe may be relatively dry, but storms can be fast and fierce. The summer season, with its brash and intense afternoon rainstorms, is referred to as monsoon season. Canales these days are fabricated out of wood or metal and have become as much a decorative design feature as a functional necessity.

Territorial Style Architecture Santa Fe

Adobe Wall Detail

Many new tools and crafting techniques were introduced at this time as well. For one, wood working which allowed post-and-beam support structures to be integrated into adobe construction. The effects were two-fold. For one, adobe structures could become longer and taller with a system to distribute loads across greater spans. These elements also afforded an opportunity for artistic expression. The wood posts, beams, corbels and lintels featured elaborate carvings of various forms and motifs.

Portal Santa Fe

Wood Working Santa Fe Style

Adobe Construction

Wood Carving Santa Fe

The design of the central plaza included portal areas at the ground level. Post-and-beam construction allowed for these sheltered outdoor spaces, which spurred sheltered congregation and commerce, not unlike the ancient Greek stoa, and it continues today. The portal is seen in residential architecture as well, where it often marks an entry-way or serves as a sheltered outdoor living space. Marked with intricate wood carvings and stylized columns, the portal is a spatial and visual element indicative of the Spaniards’ influence on architecture, and the way of life, in Santa Fe.

Santa Fe Plaza


Iron working was another notable new craft. As conquistadores  the Spaniards traveled with craftsmen who could repair armor. This would give way to architectural and decorative iron work in the form of window screens, gates, door hardware, lanterns and other accessory objects. Now part of the local building vocabulary, both wood working and iron working have become sophisticated and highly revered crafts with specific Southwestern motifs.

Iron Work in Santa Fe

Iron Lighting Fixture

Having a significant impact on domestic lifestyle was the indoor kiva  (corner) fireplace. The Pueblo Indians tended open fires within interior spaces, thus creating an incredibly smoky environment. And any cooking was conducted outside in an horno,  an outdoor oven that functioned much like a pizza oven. The kiva fireplace, exhausting smoke to the outside, offered a much more comfortable indoor environment and made life easier with the ability to cook inside. The kiva fireplace is noted for its rounded, nearly half-circle face, an element that continues to be included in today’s designs for its organic character.

Kiva Fireplace Santa Fe Style

The Spaniards founded the city of Santa Fe. It was a new way of life and new city structure for this part of the world. It was the original urban fabric of Santa Fe as an official jurisdiction. Architecturally it was an adaptation, an evolution of building techniques of the time and region. The adaptation and resulting evolution would become what is referred to today as Spanish Pueblo style.

Spanish Pueblo Courtyard

Stay tuned for part three of this installment. For the first installment of this chronicle click here.

All black and white photographs are courtesy of  the New Mexico History Museum Photo Archives.

Follow Untapped Cities on Twitter and Facebook! Get in touch with the author @kerispiller.

Santa Fe. It holds a lot of mystery and wonder for me, still after having become a resident. I spent the first several weeks here walking around in a dream, age was everywhere, a strong sun and undulating walls casting intense shadows. They creaked and flowed, those walls. Buildings like sculptures in contour with the land. It felt so foreign. If you want to feel like you’ve left the US without toting your passport, come to Santa Fe. The landscape, the sky, the culture, the art, the dirt. The architecture. Santa Fe is considered the oldest capital city in North America, having celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2010. But it’s not the oldest American capital city. It was the Spaniards who founded Santa Fe as a provincial capital 400 years ago in 1610, after conquering the Pueblo Indians who had occupied the land for hundreds of years already. When Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, Santa Fe fell under Mexican rule until 1846, when the American Army staked its claim over all of New Mexico. The oldest capital city in North America, but not the oldest American capital city. It’s a distinction that reflects a more complex past than your average American town. Santa Fe is incredibly eclectic for a small town in the high desert. In its cultural, artistic and architectural heritage, it is as much Native American, Spanish and Mexican as it is American. Christo Rey Church I’m compelled to explore any locale of interest through its evolution culturally, and my language of choice is architecture. Very fitting for a town adored by both visitors and locals, who delight at the old world feeling here, as if you’ve stepped back in time. It’s a place that seems like it could be somewhere else, the south of Spain or France, a small village in Mexico perhaps. All of those places, yet none of them. Santa Fe is quite its own place, and much of it has to do with its built environment. Spanish Pueblo Architecture Spanish Pueblo Architecture There are the more typical modern and contemporary neighborhoods, but I’m focusing on the Santa Fe of old and its legacy. By no means do I cover everything, but consider it a good start to understanding Santa Fe’s spirit in its construct. It draws folks to come and visit, or come and stay, for the layers of history oozing from the adobe walls, where nothing is square or straight, and it’s just perfect. With its complete lack of straight lines and square corners, Santa Fe is brimming with quirks and surprises. It’s part of what is both lovingly and mockingly referred to as “Santa Fe charm.” It started with the Pueblo Indians as far back as 900 CE, and amazingly there still exists a population of Pueblo Indians maintaining the indigenous way of life, Taos Pueblobeing the most well-known of these habitations. The term Pueblo Indian refers to a collection of Indian tribes found throughout the American Southwest. Their pueblos or towns share a distinctive character and form whether nestled in a valley, perched on top of a mesa or carved into a cliff.

Adobe Pueblo

The typical organization of a pueblo consisted of continuous adobe structures seeming to grow out of ”” or into ”” the ground, surrounding a large open communal space with other accessory structures shared by all. This sort of physical connection with the land was an extension of their spiritual beliefs, and also a reflection of how they lived. They considered themselves as part of the land, which connected to a larger cosmos. Theirs was a communal way of living with each other and their surroundings. Little emphasis was placed on personal privacy and ownership. Quite often the opening to a dwelling wouldn’t even have a door. Rooftops were considered public space, and many social activities took place there, with people moving from rooftop to rooftop as if it were an elevated plaza or park with multiple access points available to everyone. The pueblo was a place of meandering and terracing earth shared in a collective spirit. Design and decoration purely for the sake of visual aesthetics played very little part in the architecture of the Pueblo Indians. However there is a beauty in its austerity and straightforward functionality. Form really did follow function. Fundamentally modern, it could be argued, by its very nature. Adobe was the main building material, back then comprised of gathered stones set in a mixture of mud with ashes and hay. You know a building is old if the walls are furry; it’s the hay. Stacked and set by hand, one could only build a wall so fast, having to wait for a few layers to dry before building any higher. This method minimized the height of the walls and the span of roofs due to its self-supporting nature. Structures were usually only two or three stories high. A roof consisted of log supports termed vigas, topped with layers of the mud mixture. Viga ends stuck out of exterior walls creating a detail which would enter the official vocabulary of the Santa Fe design aesthetic. Vigas would also be emulated as an interior detail, as exposed beams, only round and knotted. Old Pueblo Architecture These old adobe structures were built terraced, with the various levels accessible by ladders and built-in steps. This step design served a function but also carried natural and spiritual significance, a notion of ascendance, climbing closer and closer to their gods. It is another element that has carried through to modern design of large multi-story buildings, homes, in wall details and simply in the use of an old ladder as a decorative accent. Old Pueblo Architecture The Pueblo Indians’ building methods and their connections to the spiritual and natural world yielded structures characteristically basic, and organic in form and function. The simplicity of these structures would be elaborated upon in time, but their sculptural nature and minimal details created the basis of what would become the hallmark of building design throughout the Southwest.Spanish explorers and missionaries first arrived in Northern New Mexico in 1598, and by 1610 the new settlement of Santa Fe was formed and declared the capital of this northernmost province of New Spain. Formally it’s the Villa Real de Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asîs  or The Royal Town of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi. As the patron saint of Santa Fe, St. Francis can be found all over town in paintings, murals, carvings and tourist trinkets. There are two in the front yard, and I’m not even Catholic. St Francis de Assisi Stay tuned for the second segment on Santa Fe’s architectural history… All black and white photographs are courtesy of the New Mexico History Museum Photo Archives. Follow Untapped Cities on Twitter and Facebook! Get in touch with the author @kerispiller.