A Grounded Architecture

Santafe.com - September 27, 2011

"With more than 300 days of sun each year, Santa Fe and northern New Mexico are ideal areas for solar architecture"

The softly shaped adobe forms of Santa Fe’s architecture have held a romantic attraction for many. This may be, in part, due to anthropomorphic associations. It has been speculated that the rounded shapes subconsciously resemble organic features of living bodies. Just as likely, the attraction is also due to a fundamental harmony between this architecture and its environment.

Historic building traditions of Santa Fe and northern New Mexico have been shaped by various factors including a subsistence economy and at least three cultural ancestries. In early times, structures could be built in New Mexico with little or no money. Walls were made of the very dirt from the building site and roofs were framed with the trunks and branches of trees growing nearby. Decorative elements were borrowed from the cultures which settled in the area.

Apart from economics and culture, another element that has influenced the Santa Fe architectural style is the very special climate of the region. The thin air at 7,000 feet causes significant daily temperature variation. A 40-degree swing from daytime to nighttime is typical. These temperature extremes together with the scant rainfall have shaped architectural traditions of the region.

In the past, locals designed dwellings which were mostly one story with adobe walls. Simple dirt floors and earthen roofs were common. By connecting the home to the earth and to its massive enclosure, indoor temperatures tended to remain steady despite the extremes outside. Today, slabs on grade with radiant floor heating systems are popular and this similarly connects the home to its floor mass and to the ground below. The flat roofs and plaster walls are found in this arid region. This would be less appropriate in a climate of greater rain and snowfall.

With more than 300 days of sun each year, Santa Fe and northern New Mexico are ideal areas for solar architecture.  archaeological vestiges show that since ancient times, inhabitants of the region incorporated passive solar principals in the arrangement of their communities. These same climate conditions continue to support sustainable architecture in the area today.

Since 1992, Greg Allegretti has been the owner and principal architect of Allegretti Architects in Santa Fe. He delights in reinterpreting the traditional architectural forms of northern New Mexico in a contemporary context.