Category Archives: Santa Fe Style – A Glossary of Architectural Terms

Santa Fe Style – A Glossary of Architectural Terms

Taos Pueblo by Justin Delaney 2010

Long before the Spanish began settling Santa Fe around 1607, Pueblo Indians were living in the Rio Grande Valley in communal houses with hundreds of rooms, often four or five stories high, with earth floors, adobe walls and flat roofs held together by pine logs.  Taos Pueblo is a striking example of Native American communal housing.

The Pueblo Indians’ method of building strongly influenced the settlers who came later. Santa Fe has a rich cultural history which stems from a blending of Native American, Spanish and Anglo influences over a 400 year time period. This blending has led to its unique Spanish Pueblo and Territorial style architecture, which is unlike any other town or city in the United States.  Santa Fe’s unique architectural style is one of the reasons it draws over 1,000,000 visitors annually.

The Inn at the Loretto, Santa Fe's most photographed building, takes its inspiration from Taos Pueblo. Karen Meredith 2010

Not surprisingly, a specialized terminology has developed to describe Santa Fe’s unique architectural features. The glossary of terms below may aid your experience in searching for real estate and enjoying beautiful northern New Mexico architecture.

Acequia:  a man made irrigation ditch.

Adobe:  a building material traditionally made of mud and straw, commonly made into brick.

Arroyo:  a dry riverbed that fills with water occasionally.

Bancos:  low benches, built into the walls for seating, usually adobe covered in plaster.

Camino:  “road” in Spanish.

Canale:  a roof spout that carries water off a flat pueblo roof.

Farolito:  a small paper lantern, commonly a candle set in some sand inside a paper bag and lighted for Christmas festivities. Also known as a Luminaria.

Hacienda:  “estate” in Spanish.

Horno:  a mud adobe-built outdoor oven used by Native Americans and early settlers. Hornos are beehive shaped and use wood as their only heat source.

A horno at Taos Pueblo

Kiva: originally a subterranean round room used for worship by Pueblo Indians, now used to describe a round front fireplace.

Nicho: a niche carved into a wall for displaying a statue or other object.

Placitas: small plazas.

Portales:  Outdoor porches or patios, covered with a fixed roof and supported by posts.

Saltillo tile:  a type of unglazed clay tile that originated in Saltillo, Mexico. The majority of tiles have colors in varying hues of reds, oranges and yellows. The clay was traditionally handmade and cured in the sun.

Stucco:  plaster or mud finish to cover the exterior surface of an adobe-style wall or building, now usually a cement product.

Travertine tile:  a type of limestone tile which typically has ivory, beige, tan and cream colors.

Talavera tile: Colorful hand-decorated Mexican tile used for counter tops and trim.

Viga:   a round wooden beam used as ceiling support.

Saltillo Tile