I found this list of Mexico Style Architecture in an old book – Really Old! I’ve modified it some so it “reads” better… which means I’ve changed some of the archaic language.
The history of Architecture is by no means confined to that of the structures erected by the English-speaking races of the United States. Long before anything worthy the name of Architecture existed in the United States the proud and wealthy Spanish colonists had raised in their cities grand cathedrals and extensive municipal structures, besides convents, markets, baths, houses, etc., which are well worth study.
It is doubtful whether there are in all America any buildings equal in grandeur to the finest of the churches and cathedrals of the Spanish colonies. It is true that the best period of the Spanish Renaissance had passed before the colonies had become sufficiently rich to erect structures worthy to be compared either in size or in beauty with those of the colonies.
The decadence had commenced, and thus the ornamentation of the best churches is more or less baroque, while the worst descend very low into the depths of ” Churrigueresco.” Josef de Churriguera was an architect who in his day, like many bad architects, was successful—so much so that his name is a synonym in Spain for pretentious tastelessness.
The architects of New Spain, whether their detail was good or bad, understood thoroughly the art of massing it so as to give it the greatest possible effect. They comprehended the architectural value of broad plain surfaces contrasted with smaller adorned ones, and their great churches present us with some startling combinations of this kind.
It is principally upon this account that the architecture of Mexico and of South America deserves a greater amount of study than has heretofore been accorded it. The chief elements of grandeur and of picturesqueness —which is to grandeur what prettiness is to beauty—are derived from the distribution of the masses, and are independent, in most cases, of what is known as style.
Though the edifices of Spanish-speaking America are all conceived in various phases of that compromise between the round arched and liutelled styles—that union of a screen of orders with structural piers—which has prevailed in Europe since the Renaissance, the change of their external details, and even of their internal details, into Gothic would not greatly alter the ensemble, provided the arrangement of the masses, the artistic contrast between the richly-decorated and the unadorned surfaces, and the outline of the whole, were left unaltered.
Mexico is not only the nearest to the United States of the Spanish speaking countries, but is also architecturally the most important, and must occupy the greatest share of the space at our disposal.
San Francisco.—Among the earliest of these churches, as it is also among the few that now stand practically as left by their builders, is San Francisco at Tula, begun about the year 1540 by Fray Alonzo Ranzell, the first missionary among the Indians of that region, and completed not later than 1561. In appearance it is more like a fort than like a church, since its ponderously-built walls are guarded by flanking-towers and it is enclosed by a heavy stone wall fourteen feet high.
Merida Cathedral, completed in 1598, is another work of the sixteenth century. Its lofty and massive facade consists of a center and two square towers, each of three diminishing stages set upon one another without an attempt to soften the transition. The vaulted roof is borne on sixteen massive columns.
The sides of this structure are plain and fort-like, and the dome, though fine within, is externally inconspicuous in comparison with the western frontispiece.
The Cathedral of Mexico is the largest church on the continent, and is also one of the grandest. It is a broad, widespread pyramidal structure, somewhat lacking height, but full of repose. The twin-towers of the front have two ornamented stories above a plain base, which serves as a background for the rich adornment of the portal that forms the center of the facade.
It is this concentration of the adornment which gives it grandeur. Nothing can be more severe than the plain stonework of the broad bases of the towers, and against them the narrower upper stories and the rich entrance obtain the fullest effect. Six pairs of great scrolls form so many buttresses—flying-buttresses, it might be said—between the base and the upper part of the edifice; each tower has two pairs, while two others belong to the central part of the facade.
Above the scrolls the second story of each tower consists of five belfry openings, four smaller flanking a larger central one, while the uppermost story consists of an octagon inside a square. Each tower has a low bell shaped cap which does not add to its beauty. The lower story of the frontispiece of the main entrance is Doric, and is of better proportions than the Ionic story above it. There are also richly-decorated entrances at the sides, and the entire round of the cornices of towers and main building is set with vases disposed at intervals upon the balustrades.
No other interior in North America so nearly approaches in vastness and spaciousness the effect of the great European cathedrals, and this notwithstanding the wooden floor, the modern altars, the debased grille-work, and the presence of the great organ and of an enclosed choir in the body of the church, so that the entire length can be seen only through one of the lower side-aisles. Twenty tall fluted columns, Gothic in proportion though Doric in detail, separate the nave and aisles, into each of which open seven chapels. The ceilings are vaulted.
This cathedral, which followed a previous church built upon the site of the teocalli of the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli, was commenced in 1573, and was dedicated in 1656; the architect was Alonzo Perez Castafieda. The slender and graceful lantern of the dome is more modern, and is the work of Tolsa. Exclusive of the very thick walls, this monumental pile measures 387 feet from north to south and 177 feet from east to west, and has an interior height of 179 feet. The towers, though they seem low, are over 200 feet in height.
Church of Chihuahua In some respects the great parish church at Chihuahua excels the Cathedral of Mexico. The facade is at once grandly symmetrical and picturesque. It consists of two tall towers, the broad plain bases of which form a background to the richly-adorned center, which contains the grand portal.
This center has two superposed series of six attached columns with decorated shafts. These do not appear as ” constructed ornamentation,” as do the pilasters of a Roman building: they are ornamented constructive parts of a screen of ornament which terminates above in a series of curves forming a sort of pediment to the nave.
Three columns flank each side of the broad arch of the entrance, above which opens an octagonal window. The ornamentation of the towers does not commence until above the level of the second series of columns of the entrance.
The Parochial Church at Lagos is in its outlines similar to that at Chihuahua, but all its details are much more baroque.
The central entrance is surrounded by a mass of decoration curved and twisted in every direction—twisted so wildly that the whole almost appears to be a piece of Late German Gothic rather than a work of the Renaissance.
Very few of the cathedrals or churches of Mexico are the work of one generation: like those of Europe, they reflect the architectural history of the nation.
The Afercados, or markets, are among the most characteristic structures of Mexico; spacious open halls with courts and fountains, they compare favorably with those of the United States. Mexico has some fine examples, and Leon and Toluca others.
The architecture of the present century for the most part follows Renaissance traditions. Gothic has made little headway, although a few attempts have been made to introduce it, as, for example, at San Miguel de Allende, where a new facade and a central tower in the Pointed style have been added by an Indian architect.
Dwelling-houses It is more or less the case in all countries inhabited by people of Spanish affiliation—are set around one or more patios, or courts. Adobe, or sun-dried brick, is the material most largely used in house-construction throughout Spanish America, but in Rio Janeiro the houses are generally built of stone, whitewashed or rough-cast, with red-tiled roofs and projecting eaves and without chimneys.
The latter are useless in the climate of Rio, but are a welcome addition to the dwellings of Buenos Ayres, which country is humid and chilly. Yet until lately the residences of this now great and increasing city were of one or at most of two stories, and without fire-places.
Recently houses of three or four stories have been erected, provided with grates and chimneys, and English coal is used. In Caracas (Venezuela) the private houses are well built, often of brick or stone, and usually, in Spanish fashion, present bare walls to the streets, the apartments surrounding interior patios.