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If you've ever traveled to the Southwestern United States, you've probably seen an adobe-style house, a type of home with deep roots in the region's Indigenous history. While many southwestern-style homes share a similar rustic, earthy aesthetic, adobe-style homes share some unique features that make them a practical choice for dry, hot, and extreme climates.
What Is an Adobe-Style House?
Also known as Pueblo-style homes, adobe-style houses are a type of home created by the Pueblo people. Constructed of natural, durable materials and featuring thick walls and flat, rounded roofs, adobe-style homes are ideal for dry and harsh climates like the Southwestern United States. Recent adobe-style homes are appropriated from the original indigenous architecture, often built with timber frames instead of earthen materials.
According to Theodore Jojola, PhD, a professor at the University of New Mexico, adobe-style houses are a type of earthen architecture originally created by the indigenous Pueblo. While architecture made from earth, water, and other materials is represented all over the world, Jojola says adobe-style homes originated in the river basins of the American southwest.
Read on to learn more about the history and key features of adobe-style houses.
Meet the Expert
- Theodore Jojola, PhD, is a professor at the University of New Mexico who specializes in indigenous planning.
- Carmen Larach is principal designer at Charles Diehl Architect LLC, a boutique full-service architect in New York.
What Makes a House Adobe Style?
Given their unique history and functionality, adobe-style homes have the same key characteristics. According to Jojola, adobe is a type of earthen material containing earth mixed with water and either grass or straw. At first, adobe-style homes were round, but over time, indigenous people built rectangular adobe homes.
According to Larach, adobe-style houses have flat roofs with rounded edges and an extension of the roof that serves as a barrier to collect rainwater, a precious resource in hot and dry climates. The walls of an adobe house are usually thick, so they absorb heat on hot days and release it during cool nights.
On the inside, adobe homes are just as functional, with concrete or tile floors to maintain a cool temperature in the hot climate. Many adobe homes look rustic on the inside, with wooden beams supporting the roof and a fireplace nestled on the main level.
Here are some other features you can expect from an adobe-style house:
- Natural and earthy colors
- Often constructed with mud, clay, or straw bricks
- Strong, waterproof foundation
- Flat roofs with rounded edges
- Thick walls with blunt angles
- Commonly, outdoor lounge space or rooftop gardens
- One- or two-story floor plan oriented around a central courtyard
- Deep-set windows
- A beehive-like fireplace typically set in the corner
- Low lighting in the bedrooms, but high lighting in the kitchen
- Exposed vigas, or wooden beams, to support the roof
- Benches built into the walls
- Upper floors set back behind main floor
History of Adobe-Style Houses
According to Jojola, the history of these houses dates back to the Indigenous Pueblo, one of the many Indigenous nations from the Southwestern United States. The first adobe-style houses were circular homes called pit houses that were half in the earth and half above. Around 800 AD, Jojola says circular adobe-style homes evolved into rectangular buildings. At that time, people began to break the homes into separate rooms, using different soil types for different parts of the house.
Adobe-style homes have a unique, rustic look, but their features are rooted in functionality. For example, the thick, natural walls provide protection from the elements, The Southwest experiences extreme swings in temperature, and Jojola says adobe material absorbs heat during the day and releases it into the interior of the home when it gets cool at night.
Today, adobe-style homes are most commonly found in the Southwestern United States. Cities such as Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico require specific design guidelines in their historic areas, making these types of homes even more common. Florida and Southern California also house many adobe-style homes due to their hot, extreme weather.
Now, many of these homes incorporate Spanish design with Indigenous building materials due to Spanish colonization.
The Different Types of Adobe-Style Houses
Many people use the terms Adobe-style and Pueblo-style homes interchangeably, but Jojola says Pueblo-style homes were adapted by colonizers who added other structural elements to the original indigenous design.
Pueblo Revival Homes
While adobe-style homes tend to use adobe brick materials—earth, water, and grass or straw—Pueblo Revival homes appropriate the original construction style. "The more modern houses are actually timber-frame structures finished on the outside with stucco to make them look like adobe," says Jojola. Typically, Pueblo Revival homes have a heavier look than the original earthen style.