Spanish Style Homes History

by THAT Painter Lady

Spanish Style Homes have a unique history… their style is in fact so unique that I wondered… "where does this style evolve from"?

The Spanish Style Home, with its two-foot thick walls, its iron grated windows and its secluded garden patio flanked by cloistered corridors…  Is what I consider the Spanish Style.

Spanish Style Homes
photo credit: puroticorico

The Spanish house usually conforms to the grace and harmony of the earth. Regional climates and traditions plus the availability of building materials were determining factors in the building style.

In the hot country practically all the better houses are made of adobe (sun-dried brick), usually tile-roofed. In the towns and in the hills the type of house is more essentially Spanish, with one or two stories, invariably flat-roofed, with no gardens surrounding them. The enclosed courtyard or patio is the most characteristic feature.

In the older days the finer buildings were a combination of store and residence, the store on the street level, the residence above. Even today the upper floors of the buildings in the central streets of Mexican cities still contain some of their most beautiful Spanish style homes.

Generally, however, the flat-roofed buildings in a Spanish Style town are one story in height. Indeed, the building materials available have had much to do with the heavy architecture typical of Mexico.

The majority of Mexican towns are not near stone quarries, and there is little structural timber in the country, except in the high mountains or in the tropical jungles, so that solid stone houses are rare and frame dwellings almost unknown.

The materials available for Mexican construction are chiefly the native clay and various soft subsoil stones which are shaped with a saw.

The adobe, which is a sun-dried brick made of straw and clay, about 6x12x24 inches, enters into the structure of the majority of Mexican buildings, for when it is covered with plaster it has considerable permanence.

In addition to this there is, around the central section of Mexico, a composite soapstone known as tepetate, which is shaped as it is taken from the ground, and hardens on drying.

Texontle is the name given to a light, porous limestone which is also easily cut when first taken out, hardening upon exposure to the air.

At Monterrey there is a similar stone called sillar, which, when protected by plaster or cement on the outside, gives a comparatively permanent structure.

All these materials, from adobe to texontk, have to be formed into large blocks in order to be sufficiently stable for building purposes, and this necessity for large-sized units in structure is perhaps the chief reason for the massive buildings in Mexico.

With the advent of the modern period under General Diaz, there was a great increase in the use of brick of the small oven-baked type familiar elsewhere in the world, while increasingly many structures have been built of stone brought by rail from distant quarries.

Modern American or European houses were built in new sections of Mexico City and elsewhere in the republic, but the tendency toward this type was very slow, and it is doubtful that this style of  buildings would ever replace the thick- walled, low structures, with their bright patios, which are in many ways so much more suitable for the country.

Mexican houses are built without cellars. There is a good reason for this in Mexico City, where the moisture from the underlying swamps still tends to seep upward through the soil. But the absence of cellars also means the absence of foundations; even under more modern structural methods the foundation it was merely a great wide base of cement or stone, set in a trench only a foot or two deep, and proportionate only in breadth to the height of the proposed wall.

The flat roofs of the houses of Mexico are paved with smooth tile or brick and finished with asphalt. There is only a slight dip in these roofs, but a cornice keeps the water, even in the rainy season, from dripping into the street, and it is carried off, as a rule, in gutters to the ground, into the patio fountain, or to the great earthen jars which are similar to the rain barrel in American rural communities.

Another type of permanent roof in Mexican towns is a direct Spanish importation red or green tile. These are common in small towns and on the haciendas, but are seldom found in the cities. They are built with a low pitch and the overhanging eaves carry the rain water into the streets.

Observers are likely to consider that the old buildings, made of native material, are more permanent than modern brick structures with lighter walls. This is, to a certain extent, true, but where this old type of building has been permanent, almost invariably the structures have been built of stone, and a stone building with walls four feet thick and of a height of two stories is naturally more lasting than the modern structure with walls of but eight to ten inches. 

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