Santa Fe Modern Shaking it Up in New Mexico

By: Jason Couillard

Santa Fe architecture is a perennial favorite and an old standby. It's just part of living here. It's likely, however, that Santa Fe wouldn't look like Santa Fe if the preservationist "Historic Styles Ordinance" hadn't been passed in 1957. The ordinance draws a line around the historic downtown area in the city and dictates that all buildings within this 300 acre area adhere to certain design guidelines. If it's in Santa Fe, it's gotta look Santa Fe.

Looking Santa Fe

Pueblo revival and territorial revival styles are at the heart of the ordinance which favors vigas and canals, low flat roofs, earth toned faux-dobe, portals, and white window and door pediments. And while there's a lot to be said for looking Santa Fe, the ordinance has been controversial since the day it was born. Critics say the rules have kept the majority of Santa Fe buildings from moving into the present and embracing the best of what modern style and architecture have to offer. They say that it's effectively erased the evolving architectural history of the downtown core. They say it lacks character. Rather than applause for the role the ordinance has played in propagating a distinctive Santa Fe style, you'll hear nothing but cries of "suffocating" and "backward" from this camp.

Looking Santa Fe With a Twist

Regardless of the bickering, the 400 year old city has marched ahead into the modern age as surely as any other American city. Lifestyles have changed, tastes have changed and people have continued to flock to Santa Fe for all of the things that make it a beautiful place to live. In spite of the strictest preservationists, Santa Fe has managed to develop new architectural style that marries Adobe Pueblo with Modernism and roots them both firmly in the present.

We call it Santa Fe Modern and it's emerged as naturally from the landscape of New Mexico as any clay brick adobe house ever did. Taking cues from Frank Lloyd Wright's prairie houses which were also built with clear horizons, giant skies and extreme temperatures in mind, Santa Fe modern is a perfect meeting of history and modern lifestyle. Reminiscent of the traditional Santa Fe style, but without the frou frou, Santa Fe modern is distinguished by clean lines, great use of light and shadow, dramatic angles and heavy use of stone. You'll see lots of polished concrete in these buildings. Like the adobe homes that came before them, Santa Fe modern makes creative use of local materials. The color palette still contains plenty of earth tones but this style isn't shy. You'll also see buildings that take their colors from the brilliant Santa Fe sky, reminding us that blue, cobalt and crimson are desert colors too.

No Apologies

Though it's unlikely the downtown core will be overtaken by a modern aesthetic any day soon, in the the areas that surround the historic district we're seeing a new style emerge. For those that love the look of Santa Fe but also love modern architecture, Santa Fe Modern is a truly exciting regional style that acknowledges where it comes from while making no apologies for being a product of the present.

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