NM Architecture

New Mexico Architecture

Santa Fe, New Mexico offers a distinctive blend of unique architectural styles. When people first visit the 47th state, they are usually surprised to see so many “flat roofed” buildings with earthen colored walls. To the untrained eye they all appear to the same – However, upon closer inspection, different architectural details begin to emerge which represent the unique historical periods of New Mexico.

The following is a brief description of those historical periods and their corresponding architectural styles.


In 1540, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and his soldiers rode up the Rio Grande Valley in search of a “New” Mexico with its rumored Cities of Gold. What they found were the Native American’s living in villages or “Pueblos.” Their dwellings were rectangular, flat roofed structures with walls made of stone and mud. The ceilings were constructed of round tree trucks (vigas) laid across the top of the walls. These buildings had no doors but were entered by a ladder through an opening in the roof. Sometimes thin sheets of mica were embedded into the walls for daylighting.

The Spaniards settled here and quickly adapted this type of architecture to their European construction methods. They made wooden forms into which they placed a mixture of mud, clay, and straw to make bricks which were left out in the sun to dry. These are the “Adobe” bricks that most people associate with today’s New Mexico architecture. The Spaniards also added small windows and doors to their homes.

Every spring the walls were re-plastered with a fresh layer of mud and clay to protect the adobe bricks from the rain. Over time, this accumulation of mud and clay would build up into the soft, rounded forms that we associate with Adobe architecture.

The floor plans of these early homes were typically dictated by the addition of a new family member. When a chicld was born the family simply made more Adobe bricks, cut down more trees, and rolled them on top of the adobe walls for the roof and they had another room. To get from one room to the next, you walked through someone else’s room to get to yours. This resulted in the flat roofed, rambling, informal look of “Pueblo Style” architecture.


When New Mexico became a territory of the United States in 1848, an influx of new building materials became available through the railroad. Adobe bricks were still used for the walls but kiln-fired bricks were now set on top of the walls to protect them from the rain and snow. Now the walls no longer needed to be re-plastered every spring.

Larger panes of glass brought in by train meant that bigger windows became more common. At the same time, Greek revival architecture was in vogue on the East Coast. New Mexico started to see painted wooden trim around doors and windows with Greek pediments above them, as well as square cut beams instead of the traditional, round vigas.


This is typically a variation of territorial style. It is typified by the addition of pitched roofs with corrugated or standing seam metal roofing panels. The pitched roof was usually added of top on an existing, flat roofed, pueblo style building. This was done to protect the flat roof from the deep snows of a typical northern New Mexico winter. Sometimes wooden sassing was added around windows and doors to give a more formal appearance to the home


This is the adaptation of all the styles listed above to today’s modern lifestyle. This includes large windows, modern hating and cooling, large rooms with high ceiling and open floor plans.

Today’s Architects who practice in New Mexico offer a wide range of interpretation of this style of Architecture.