Southwest Architecture Vocabulary

Southwest Architecture

Southwest Architecture brings many new architectural features to the home. The Spanish and adobe influences in local design have brought many Southwestern words into our vocabularies.

Look for some of these Southwest Architecture features in your Southwestern Home:

Adobe - a building material originally made of mud and straw, usually made into bricks. In modern times, adobe is made of sand and clay.

Alcobas - steel or cast iron bed frames

Alacenas - wall cupboards

Banco - Built-in benches, often with an upholstered cushion.

Banos - bathrooms

Canale - Water spout or rain trough that protrudes through a parapet wall, normally to drain water that collects on a flat roof.

Cajas - wooden chest for clothes

Carpintero - carpenter

Cocina - kitchen

Comedore - dining room

Corbel - A supporting timber under a beam or arch. The end of the corbel may be cut square for a stepped appearance or carved for a beaked look.

Courtyards - A secluded area of peacefulness at the front, rear, or in the center of the home.

Exposed adobe walls - Adobe brick, left unplastered so they can be seen

Entrada - entryway

Fogon - Fireplace set in a corner

Hacienda - territorial mansion

Hornos - round earthen wood outdoor ovens,

Jardines - Gardens

Kiva - Early Native Americans built pit houses for worship. The present day use of the term signifies a style of fireplace, normally with rounded front, placed in the corner of a room.

Latillas - Small peeled poles used to form a ceiling. Straight, uniform latillas are usually made of aspen, although some homeowners prefer the more rustic look of Saguaro ribs. Latillas are often placed on vigas.

Lintel - Crossbeam above a window. In southwestern homes, they are often massive wooden beams painted blue or brown.

Maceta - flower pots, also an enclosed patio in a hacienda, a bright place

Miridor - balcony

Nichos - cubbyholes or "niches" in walls meant for displaying items. Originally, these were reserved for "Santos" or carved religious objects.

Ocotillo Fence - A living fence made of stems cut from the ocotillo plant

Olla - basket

Parapets - wall section above the roof line

Placitas - small plazas

Portales - porches, covered and supported by zapatas. A popular Southwest Architecture feature.

Ristras - Dried and strung red chilies, now mostly used as decorative ornaments.


Ramada - Freestanding canopy made of four imposts and a roof.

Rammed earth - a type of construction where walls are built compacting soil and aggregates in forms on the site

Retablo - painted wood plaque, usually a saint

Sala - living room, must have a fireplace

Saltillo tile - Red clay or terra cotta floor tile, 12 inches square or sometimes octagonal. Named after the city in northern Mexico. These tiles were traditionally cured in the sun, but are now often fired.

Santos - wood carved statue of a saint

Stucco - plaster or mud finish, now usually a cement product

Talavera Tile - Tile or other ceramics decorated with colorful artwork by Mexican artists.

Terrazzo - A flooring material of marble or stone chips set in mortar and polished when dry

Trastero - cupboard, not built in

Vigas - Traditional peeled log beam. They may been seen inside as well as protruding through the outside walls.

Zaguan - entry, hall or courtyard

Zapatas - corbelled (a short timber placed under a beam) imposts (the point at which an arch rests on a wall or column)

If you know of any more Southwest Architecture features or vocabulary that should be included on this page, feel free to contact me and remind me to include them. I'll be happy to hear things you might think could make this website better.

Planning a move? Looking for a New Home? Are you creating your Southwestern Dream Home? This is the place to look for ideas and information to help you build your ideal home. When looking for a Realtor to help you in your search for property, or for that perfect home, we can help., Inc.

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