Connecting Cultures in Architecture


Much of the architecture of New Mexico is influenced by multiple cultures, the result of which is something that we may think of as uniquely New Mexican. One of New Mexico’s signature styles of architecture, Spanish Pueblo Revival, is a combination of Pueblo architecture and Spanish influences. Students living anywhere in the state can see different styles of architecture in their local schools, civic buildings, and main streets. These physical expressions of cultural values and aesthetics and our understanding of them serve to help us understand the cultural history of New Mexico and its connections to the rest of the world.

Curriculum Materials

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Students will…

  • Understand connections between architectural styles and the cultures that created them.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of how different cultures may influence each other’s architecture to create something new.

Key Questions

  • How is information communicated and understood visually?

Key Skills

The student will be able to articulate the relationship between architectural styles and the cultures that created them. Students will also demonstrate an understanding of how different cultures may influence each other’s architectural styles to create something new and yet representative of each culture.

This will be demonstrated through a final project that requires the student to research at least two different architectural styles from different time periods or geographical locations, compile and understand certain information about those styles and the culture that created them, and then synthesize that information to create an artistic representation of how those cultures could combine their architecture to create something that was representative of both.

Cross-curricular Connections

  • History
  • Design
  • Social Studies


Much of the architecture of New Mexico is influenced by multiple cultures, the result of which is something that we may think of as uniquely New Mexican. One of New Mexico’s signature styles of architecture, Spanish Pueblo Revival, is a combination of Pueblo architecture and Spanish influences. Students living anywhere in the state can see different styles of architecture in their local schools, civic buildings, and main streets. These physical expressions of cultural values and aesthetics and our understanding of them serve to help us understand the cultural history of New Mexico and its connections to the rest of the world.

Spanish Pueblo Revival, sometimes referred to as Santa Fe Style architecture, helped define the visual character of Santa Fe and New Mexico starting in the early twentieth century. The New Mexico Museum of Art’s 1917 historic Plaza Building, designed by Isaac Hamilton Rapp, is often cited as the building that helped to define the style. The style draws inspiration from traditional Pueblo construction as well as Spanish influences. In particular, the style pulls heavily from the design of Spanish mission churches built on Pueblos in the region. The mission church at Acoma Pueblo is regularly noted as the greatest influence on the museum’s architecture. This style of building draws elements from both Pueblo and Spanish cultures. Adobe itself, for example, is a traditional building material in both the American Southwest and in Spain, although how it was used varied greatly.

Interior Features


Large wooden beams used to support a flat roof in traditional adobe construction are called vigas. In modern Pueblo Revival architecture, vigas may be decorative or functional. Vigas are stripped logs such as those in the Beauregard Gallery or beams, such as those found in the Women’s Board Room. The projection of vigas through the exterior wall of a building is a common trait of Pueblo Revival architecture. The vigas in the auditorium came from California, and it was hoped that time curing in salt air would help to preserve the wood.


Formed by using either strips of woods or peeled branches, latillas can be found resting on top of vigas and form the foundation of a roof. Wooden strip or plank latillas can be found in the upstairs galleries and our lobby, while examples of latillas made from branches can be seen in our courtyard or Saint Francis Auditorium.


Corbels are support structures for vigas that extend from the walls. They are often carved and serve both a functional and decorative role.

Exterior Features

Spanish Pueblo Revival walls borrow the look and feel of traditional Pueblo construction. Adobe is made from a mix of earth and organic materials such as straw. Because of this, traditional adobe walls are subject to erosion from wind and rain, which causes them to take on a rounded appearance. Regimented adobe bricks that have been dried in the sun are a common staple of more modern adobe construction that was brought to the region by the Spanish. These bricks, which are used to form walls, are held together using adobe mud plaster as a mortar. The walls are then often coated over with a layer of more mud plaster to form the smooth surface of the wall. This outer coating of adobe erodes over time and must be renewed periodically. The roofs of Spanish Pueblo Revival buildings are flat and frequently stepped, giving a building the appearance of being formed from various sized blocks that have been placed next to one another. The walls tend to slope inwards toward the top and extend beyond the roofline to form irregular parapets. These roof and wall features can be easily spotted in traditional Pueblo architecture. 

The Spanish influence in Santa Fe Style architecture can often be seen in the layout of a building or a city. Early Spanish settlements were based on design guidelines found in the Laws of the Indies, approved by the Spanish Crown. A central plaza was to be the starting point for a city design and rules governed which institutions, such as the church, government, or businesses had first choice regarding proximity to that plaza. Guidelines were also given for the layout of courtyard homes. These buildings consisted of lines of rooms surrounding and opening into a central courtyard that had a single exterior opening. The Spanish Colonial Mission form was also used in the construction of mission churches throughout the territory. This consisted of a church form with a connecting residential section that resembled a courtyard house.  The New Mexico Museum of Art’s historic building is an example of this kind of Spanish design.

Curriculum Artwork

Laying Vigas, circa 1942 Manville Chapman (American, 1903 – 1978) tempera on board 10 x 8 in. (25.4 x 20.3 cm) On long term loan to the New Mexico Museum of Art from the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration 753.23P
View From La Fonda Poolside, 1973 Nicholas Nixon (American, born 1947) gelatin silver print 8 x 10 in. (20.3 x 25.4 cm) Wayne R. Lazorik University Collection, gift of Wayne R. Lazorik, 1996 1996.40.57
Socorro Court House, 1885 Leon Trousset (French, died Mexico, 1838 – 1917) oil on canvas, 29 5/8 x 43 3/4 in. (75.2 x 111.1 cm) (image) Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John Gaw Meem, 1975 3246.23P
New Art Museum, Santa Fe – South Front, 1916 Kenneth Chapman (American, 1875 – 1986) watercolor 10 1/4 x 27 in. (26 x 68.6 cm) Museum acquisition, before 1918 1833A.23D

Lesson Plan


Architecture can be a reflection of a society’s history, values, and technology as well as its major influences. By studying a culture’s built environment, much can be learned about that culture.

Materials, Resources, Preparation

Students Will Need…

  • Internet or library access to research historic architectural styles and their associated cultures and time periods
  • Art making materials. This lesson’s project can be completed using traditional art media such as painting, drawing, or sculpture as well as digital design resources.

Teachers Will Need…

  • Images and written materials from the Art & Architecture curriculum collection

Getting Started

Review the materials in the Art & Architecture curriculum collection below to learn about New Mexico’s signature architectural styles and the history and cultures that informed their creation. Additionally, watch the video with architectural historian Chris Wilson to learn more about the development of Spanish Pueblo Revival Architecture, or Santa Fe Style, and its connection to New Mexico and Santa Fe.

Art & Architecture Curriculum Collection

Ancestral Pueblo Architecture

New Mexico has a rich and distinctive architectural history. From the prehistoric great houses of the Ancestral Pueblo people, to the most progressive architects of today, New Mexican architecture has developed with a strong relationship to place and a strong appreciation for indigenous styles.

Spanish Colonial Architecture

This curriculum focuses on the architecture of the Spanish Colonial Period in New Mexico. The mission churches were the most significant architecture during this period, and they have been painted and photographed by numerous artists over the years.

Spanish Pueblo Architecture

The artwork produced in New Mexico has been influenced by three cultures and by the unique qualities of the region’s communities and natural environment. New Mexico has a rich and distinctive architectural history, from the prehistoric great houses of the Anasazi to the most progressive architects of today.

Territorial Architecture

After New Mexcio became a territory of the United States, Americans brought in milled posts and trim to make the buildings look more European, and built Greek Revival style buildings with white columns and classical proportions. U.S. military forts and government buildings adopted this style, now known as “Territorial.”


After learning about the ways that different cultures came together to produce blended architectural styles in New Mexico, such as Spanish Pueblo Revival or Territorial Revival, students will develop a unique architectural style of their own. Students will research and select two or more different architectural styles from different historical periods and from different locations. These styles should hold some sort of personal attraction for the students.  Examples of different architectural styles found in New Mexico and around the world that can be found in the New Mexico Museum of Art’s collection.  Some examples are included below. Additional works in the collection that feature architecture can be found at

Step 1

Ask each student to select 2-4 styles of architecture that they have a positive response to. These connections can be as simple as remembering a building they liked from a film or recalling something from a textbook. Detailed knowledge of the style or place is not necessary. If class time allows, encourage students to research the style, its history, and the culture that it comes from. If time does not allow for this kind of research, simply finding representative images will suffice.

Step 2

For each architectural style students select, they will compile three short lists. These lists may be based on research done by the students in the course of finding their reference images, but it may also be the result of a subjective analysis. Their impressions are perfectly valid for this step, however it should be clearly noted if their lists are based on their impressions, or on research.

  • First List: Students list cultural values reflected in the architecture. In the Neoclassical architecture of Washington, D.C. the connection to the idealized ancient Greeks and the desire to create a built environment that expressed greatness could be noted. Depending on the class, time available, and if a research project is desired, this list can be compiled in one of two ways. First, if appropriate, students can research the buildings they choose to find out what those building styles were intended to convey. Second, its perfectly ok to ask students to carefully consider their own impressions of these buildings and list the values that they see in the designs.
  • Second List: The students will list the ways that the architectural style relates to materials and technology. Pueblo architecture utilized natural materials that were readily available and were adapted to different forms over time. International Style in contrast favored steel, glass, and concrete that were made more readily available through advances in technology.
  • Third List: Students will define the visual aesthetics and architectural elements that identify each style. Describe what the buildings look like. Are they angular or rounded? Are particular color pallets always in use? Are there decorative elements or shapes that occur in each example?

Step 3

Using this information, the student will design the exterior of a building that incorporates the values, materials, aesthetics and architectural elements of each style. If architects from the late Classic Maya and the Greek Revival periods came together to create one building, what would it look like? What values would it express? How would each culture be reflected in the construction? The final design can be completed in any media such as drawing, painting, sculpture or 3D modeling. To complete the project, each student will present their final design. If they were assigned to research the style and culture of the buildings that served as inspiration, they should present their findings as part of the presentation. Each student will also need to highlight aspects of their hybrid design, note where those elements came from, and expound on what personal value they found in those elements.

Lesson Conclusion: Sharing Responses

How each person reacts to a piece of visual culture, be it a painting or a building, can be a subjective experience that is informed by a variety of life experiences. How each student interprets and combines architectural styles is likely to be highly personal. If time allows, having those students who are willing share why they selected the styles they used and what they wanted to convey by combining them can be a great way to explore not only our cultural connections to architecture, but our personal connections as well.

Related Collection

Art & Architecture

Adobe Architecture, Chaco Canyon, First Peoples, Pueblo Peoples, 19th Century History, 20th Century History, Railroads, The Santa Fe Trail, Post-Statehood, Spanish Pueblo Architecture, Spanish Colonial Art, Spanish Colonial Period
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