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.

After statehood, in 1912, New Mexico began to grow and change more quickly. Politicians, businessmen, artists and archeologists were involved in making decisions about how New Mexico should grow. Tourism was the key to economic development, and the “Santa Fe Plan” was created to promote and maintain a characteristic regional style based on ancient pueblo architecture and Spanish colonial architecture. The model for this architecture was the mission churches of Acoma and Isleta, and the sculpted adobe masses of Taos Pueblo. The New Mexico Museum of Art and the La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe, both built by the architectural firm of Rapp and Rapp, first set the example for this type of building. Spanish colonial details such as carved and painted vigas, herringbone patterned latillas, and hand-carved furniture were also incorporated in these buildings. This became known as “Pueblo Spanish Revival” or “Santa Fe Style.”

The Fred Harvey Company built hotels and train stations with the objective of luring tourists to ride the railroad. The railroad financed the Alvarado Hotel in Albuquerque and the La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe. The building designs were based on the Pueblo Spanish style, and Mary Colter, the interior designer, incorporated Native American designs, symbols, weavings and traditional artworks into the private rooms and public spaces.

Thunderbird Mirror, circa 1945
Robert Woodman (1908 – 1983)
Tin, painted glass and mirror
27 1/2 x 27 x 1/2 inches
Museum purchase with funds from the J. and R. Clarke Endowment, 2008

This pueblo deco mirror incorporates art deco, pueblo designs, and Hispanic tin work. The idea of art deco was to decorate functional forms with repeated colorful motifs from a wide variety of cultures. Aztec and Egyptian motifs were also use in art deco designs. Pueblo deco was specific to the Southwest.

The first New Mexican architect to invest in and develop the Pueblo Spanish Revival style was John Gaw Meem. Meem was trained as an engineer and came to Santa Fe to receive treatment for tuberculosis. Meem built many important buildings in the Pueblo Spanish Revival style including the renovation of La Fonda, Cristo Rey Church and the Laboratory of Anthropology in Santa Fe, and Zimmerman library on the campus of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Meem appreciated the spiritual value of ancient forms, and he designed curves and battered walls similar to ancient buildings and the Southwestern landscape. He sought to evoke a mood that referred to the surrounding place. He also believed that ancient native shapes were functional and therefore modern, and that ancient forms could be combined with modernist ideas and materials.

The photograph above shows the detail that John Gaw Meem put into his buildings, including carved vigas, posts and corbels, and furniture. Even his large buildings like the Zimmerman library on the UNM campus in Albuquerque have handmade details like these. His buildings are distinctly New Mexican, with features from both Spanish and Pueblo designs. Today many people still want to have these old, traditional details in their homes and buildings.

While recovering from his tuberculosis, Meem met interesting intellectuals and artists including Carlos Vierra, who photographed and painted all the mission churches in the state. Both Vierra and Meem became key players in an organization dedicated to preserving New Mexico’s mission churches and, in the process, became strong proponents of Santa Fe style architecture.

Pueblo Deco is a style related Pueblo Spanish revivalist architecture. The Kimo Theater in Albuquerque is an excellent example that combines elegant, simplified Art Deco lines with ornament and decoration based on Native American motifs and designs.

Curriculum Artwork

Interior of the Indian Building at the Alvarado Hotel, circa 1905 G. W. Hance (American, 1874 – 1930) gelatin silver copy photograph of Keystone stereoview image, 8 x 10 in. (20.3 x 25.4 cm) Courtesy Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA) #89390
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
La Fonda Hotel, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1923 Unknown Photographer offset lithographed postcard 3 1/2 x 5 1/2 in. (8.9 x 14 cm
San Felipe Mission, circa 1914 Carlos Vierra (American, 1876 – 1937) oil on canvas 15 1/2 x 23 in. (39.4 x 58.4 cm) Gift of the Honorable Frank Springer and Carlos Vierra, 1918 149.23P
Amelia Beard Hollenback House, north of Sunmount (John Gaw Meem, architect), 1983 Richard Wilder (American, born Germany, 1952) gelatin silver print, gold toned 7 1/2 x 9 1/2 in. (19.1 x 24.1 cm) Gift of Richard Wilder from the New Mexico Photographic Survey Project, Museum of Fine Arts, 1981-1984, funded by the National Endowment of the Arts, with individual support from Sunwest Bank of Santa Fe and T. Randolph Potter, 1985 1985.110.13A
Untitled (Couple in Front of Christo Rey Church, Santa Fe) (No. 75), early 20th-late 20th Century Willard F. Clark (American, 1910 – 1992) woodcut 5 1/2 x 6 1/4 in. (14 x 15.9 cm) Museum acquisition, 1992 1992.43.16

Discussion Questions

  1.  What historical and cultural influences contributed to Spanish Pueblo architecture looking the way that it does?
  2. When looking at the artwork of Spanish Pueblo architecture, what aspects of the architecture seem familiar to you in the architecture that you see in New Mexico today?
  3. When looking at the artworks included here, do you see any similarities between the buildings depicted and buildings in your home town? What buildings come to mind?
  4. Look at the images of New Art Museum, Santa Fe – South Front 1916 by Kenneth Chapman and San Felipe Mission, circa 1914 by Carlos Vierra. How are these images of the art museum and the mission church similar? Do you see any differences?

Related Collections

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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New Mexico Art Tells New Mexico History

This collection features content that we have transferred to The Humanities Project from our former online educational resource, New Mexico Art Tells New Mexico History.

Adobe Architecture, Chaco Canyon, First Peoples, Pueblo Peoples, 20th Century History, Migration, Route 66
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