Spanish architecture possesses certain distinctive features, in both plan and detail.
In plan, whether of residence or public building, the patio, or open inner courtyard, is a marked characteristic.
In detail the use of wrought iron work for balconies, railings and grilles is equally characteristic.
There is, too, the low pitched tile roof, as found in Italy, the same prevalence of stucco wall surfaces, but no such frequent use of loggias and terraces.
Most Spanish style houses, as well as those in the old Spanish colonies, whether in town or country, were built somewhat after the manner of private fortresses, as though no man trusted his fellow, or felt secure in the community in which he dwelt.
The outer walls were heavy and forbidding, with but few windows, and these small, high and protected by iron grilles.
The street door was a massive, iron-studded affair, with huge bolts and ponderous locks—a barrier against anything but actual siege.
Whatever gentler aspect of domestic architecture existed was lavished on the patio or inner court, which was often gay with flowers, and cooled by a fountain in the center.
Into galleries around the patio opened the chambers of the house, those of the master usually occupying the first floor above the ground, while the servants dwelt below, and performed the domestic duties of the household in the court itself.
Many Spanish patios are beautiful with flowers and fountains, and quaintly devised galleries and arcades.
The tradition of the protected patio, with plainly apparent need, is to be seen in the earlier haciendas and ranch houses of the Southwest United States and of South America. In the event of attack by Indians or brigands, outbuildings could readily be burned, live-stock taken and great loss sustained, whereas the inner court plan made it possible for the unprotected householder in outlying districts, to offer only four forbidding walls and a stout door to the marauder.
Today, however, when no need exists for such protection of property, the patio offers an architectural opportunity of peculiar charm, especially in the private residence.
In a country dwelling situated in the prevailing warm climates of the Southern Pacific coast, or the states of the far South, the patio may well be made a spot of engaging beauty and of real significance in the daily lives of the occupants.
The shadows cast by the surrounding walls will render the patio cool at most hours of the day, and its restricted area will make possible the contrivance of a very intimate kind of gardening, as well as the selection of many attractive and interesting types of informal and semi-outdoor furniture.
In public buildings the patio usually takes the form of a courtyard, serving, in the plan of the building, to afford lighting to the inner rooms. The architectural possibilities of the patio, however, are often lost sight of in its purely utilitarian function as a lightshaft, which is unfortunate by reason of the numerous attractive courtyard treatments which may be effected.