Across the Southwest, you’ll see historic adobe buildings in many old town districts. Other popular architectural styles include Spanish Colonial and Mission Revival, while wooden storefronts, Victorian mansions, and miners’ cottages lend an additional rustic charm to many mountain towns.
t The striking design of Arcosanti, an eco-housing project
The Southwest’s wide open spaces have given visionary architects room to design some remarkable eco-friendly dwellings, such as the Biosphere 2 in Southern Arizona and Paolo Soleri ’s Arcosanti. Just outside Taos, a community of 70 “Earthships” uses upcycled materials to build artistic and sustainable homes.
The traditional building material of the Southwestern desert is adobe, a mixture of mud or clay and sand, with straw or grass as a binder. It’s formed into bricks that harden in the sun; they are then built into walls, cemented with a similar material, and plastered over with more mud. Modern adobe-style buildings (“fauxdobe”) often substitute cement for mud, and are painted to look like adobe.
Perhaps the USA’s leading architect, Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959) practiced in the Southwest. Wright’s “organic architecture” advocated the use of local materials and the importance of the setting. Visit his architectural complex at Taliesin West to see a key example of his work. It was built from desert stones and sand, and the expansive proportions reflect the Arizona desert.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Spanish Colonial missions combined the Baroque style of Mexican and European religious architecture with native design. The early 20th-century Mission Revival style is similiar in spirit, characterized by stucco walls made of white lime cement, often with graceful arches and flat roofs. A fine example is the 1906 J. Knox Corbett House in Tucson’s Historic District.
The Southwest is peppered with cliff dwellings, built by the Ancestral Puebloan people around AD 750–1300. Some of the best can be viewed in Mesa Verde National Park or the Canyon de Chelly National Monument.
Adobe (meaning “sun-dried brick”) needs to be replastered every couple of years.