That variety of architecture which the world knows as "Spanish" goes back in history a good many centuries. Indeed the beginnings that gave rise to architectural expression in Spain were similar in character to those which gave rise to building endeavors in other sun-lit lands of the Mediterranean area. It is no "historic accident" that the Assyrian palace, the Greek house, the Roman villa, and the Spanish residence were all disposed around an open court. This similarity in plan, if not of detail or of decoration, is mute testimony of the influence of climate - the heat of the sun-in these favored lands around the Classic Mediterranean. Thus the primitive impulse to produce an artificial shelter from the sun has operated to give to all Mediterranean architecture a character the like of which the world has witnessed in no other area.
1 Adapted from The Spanish House for America (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1027), pp. 13-24.
Each of the early Mediterranean peoples developed a type of house best suited to its own needs, and this long before any similar expression in the Iberic peninsula - Spain - had time to evolve. Thus, by the time that ships and navigation made possible the migration of peoples and the exchange of ideas, Egypt, Babylonia, Assyria, Greece, and Rome had acquired civilized traits and an artistic prowess worth passing on to their less-advanced brothers of the Mediterranean basin. The salient message of all Mediterranean architecture is its reaction to climate, its essential sunniness, its emphasis of light and shade. This quality is apparent in its every line, be it plan, elevation, roof, or decoration.
The Spanish peninsula remained in the hands of the primitive Iberic race until a time relatively late in history and was thus a virgin field at the time when the Romans were ready to conquer the western Mediterranean. With Roman domination came Roman institutions, Roman law, the Latin tongue, and the acquired Roman art, itself the appropriated heritage of Classic Greece and ancient Etruria. Spanish art - and particularly Spanish architecture - is therefore of assured Roman origin, round-arched, rhythmic, and sun-loving, subsequent events introducing other wonderfully interesting features.
Thus to-day Spain offers us an architecture the versatility of which is perhaps matched in no other European country. Here we find fragments of an ancient Iberic art; a wealth of Roman remains; bits, particularly in the northwest, of Christian Visigothic architecture; at Toledo and in the sunny cities of Andalusia, a wealth of Moorish handiwork; in many of the important episcopal cities impressive Gothic piles, which in turn were preceded by the forerunning Cluniac-Romanesque introduced from France; and everywhere the record of the splendid, if exuberant, Renaissance that followed hard upon the "Gothic of the Catholic kings," the indelible evidence of a national rejoicing over the final triumph of the Spanish cross at Granada and of the Spanish sword in newly-discovered Peru and Mexico.
The type of house which emerged from the vicissitudes of Spanish history is one eminently adapted to life in sunny lands and, like the town houses of Greece and Rome, it turns a relatively "bleak and bare" fachada (face) to the street, reserving its greatest interest and most joyous aspects for the interior, and particularly for the patio, which becomes in the heat of summer, and during the sunny hours of the whole year, an outdoor living room. This, then, is the whole spirit of the type of house that, with the conquering of the New World, was introduced into the Indies, South America, Mexico, and the Spanish areas of our own country.
In each of these lands this type of house, evolved to meet the demands of life in the home land, was exposed to a whole new set of environments. As a result it took on various forms in the various colonies, showing here a roof of deep-red tiles, there no visible roof at all, here a tile-plated and colourful fachada, there the sparkling texture of whitewashed adobe (sun-dried clay) plaster, here the time-honoured, round, rhythmic Roman forms, there the inevitable influence of Aztec or Pueblo Indian handicraft.
Thus, while preserving its general sunny quality, the Spanish house in the New World took on characteristics and evolved new details which, while generally Hispanic in feeling, had only remote precedent in Spain and in some cases no prototype at all. But this is only to be expected, for any art that is alive responds to the demands and absorbs the character of the race or the age that it serves. With the infiltration of ideas from the splendid pre-Spanish Aztec culture, the Spanish house in Mexico took on a decidedly Mexican character. Moreover, the wealth of the country and the development of the tile industry at Puebla and other cities made possible a lavish exterior use of colourful wall tiles, a material which in Spain was more generally reserved for the cool interiors, patios and gardens. Thus, while domestic architecture in Mexico sacrificed much of the old Spanish precision, finesse, and delicacy, it gained much in freshness, spontaneity and naivete.
This Spanish-Mexican house was eventually carried by the colonizing conquistadors into California, Arizona, and New Mexico, into Texas and the Gulf Coast, and into Florida. In each of these colonies, more or less isolated at the time, was developed a local variant of the Spanish-Mexican type, which, as time went on, differed as much from the others as from its prototypes in Mexico.
In California the settlement of the country by the monks of the Franciscan Order and the architectural forms which these priests and their Indian charges reared exerted an unmistakable influence upon domestic architecture. Moreover, the remoteness from Mexico and the corresponding scarcity of competent artisans, together with the enforced employment of the crudest of materials, led to an extreme simplification of forms and an utter minimization of detail. This was perhaps no handicap in a wonderfully clear and vibrant atmosphere, such as California enjoys, and this very simplification of forms, in contrast to the exuberance and lavishness which is everywhere so pronounced in Mexico, serves to give early Californian domestic architecture its frugal, honest, and craftsmanlike character.
Without much in the way of ornament and the employment of only the simplest of structural expedients, Californian architecture had of necessity to pay large attention to the proportion and form of these few expedients, if beauty were to be accomplished. The fundamental simplicity and well-proportioned masses of the old houses at San Diego, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and Monterey constitute valuable object-lessons to those of us who seek beauty of pure form unaided by the cloying sweetness of lavish detail. While most of the important Californian houses retained their arrangement around an enclosed patio, the treatment of the surrounding arcades of that patio became simple in the extreme. Here, however, due to the manufacturing prowess of the mission fathers, good roofing tiles were available and almost invariably Californian houses and all their appendages were covered with ruddy "Mission" tiles.
The "desert" situation of Arizona, on the other hand, and the proximity of Arizona to Sonora, served to ally the architectural expressions of these two provinces and to give to them a certain "desert" quality which recalls, perhaps more forcefully than anything else to be encountered in America, the desert forms of Moorish North Africa. Here the roofs, always a "crowning glory" in California, become flat and refuse to figure in the perspective.
The Spanish houses of New Mexico vary from their prototypes in Mexico and Spain more than any other of the Spanish Colonial types. When the Spaniards conquered New Mexico they found a sedentary Indian population, already living in cities, who had developed an appropriate native architecture. Therefore, when the conquistadors employed the native artisans to build houses, there resulted a new type of house, half-Spanish, half-Indian, entirely unlike anything developed in other Spanish colonies.
The New Mexican houses, while typically Spanish in plan, were just as typically Indian in mass and outline. The general forms resemble the terraced Pueblo Indian houses, building up into picturesque, natural masses. But while the pure Pueblo houses were terraced to several floors, the New Mexican Spanish types remained uniformly low and never exceeded two stories. The great charm of this type is found in the interesting way in which it reflects the natural geologic forms of its environment, its almost invariably good proportions, and its picturesque flowing lines.
The "flowing" quality of line which asserts itself not only in the elevations but also in the plans of the older New Mexican types probably came about through the Indian's appreciation of nature's disregard for right lines. He therefore shows no respect for them nor for mathematical right angles. Thus his plans, as well as his masses, show many pleasant little inexactnesses which impart to the house a quality of life that no mathematically accurate structure can possibly have. There is a human friendliness in these houses, the rounded and softened lines of which were stroked into place by the bare palms of the Indian masons who were called in to execute them.
Our notions of Texan domestic architecture of the Hispanic period come to us largely through an examination of the habitations erected in connection with the Franciscan missions in and around San Antonio. Here the building materials varied from adobe bricks to random-rubble stonework. It is to be noted that many of the apartments in the mission houses, like the mission churches themselves, were crowned by tunnel vaults of masonry. Like the Arizona types, architectural forms here partook of a "desert" quality as charming as it is rare in America.
Saint Augustine, with its old houses, city gates, plaza, and fort, serves to give us our main information regarding early Spanish architecture in Florida. The projecting balconies and tinted stucco of the houses, the "tropical," as opposed to the "desert", feeling experienced in so much of our southwestern Hispanic work, high walls of stone festoons of Spanish moss, lolling wind-blown palm trees, varicoloured awnings, the glint of a wrought-iron gate or grille, low-lying strands of sand, blue-green or saffron-coloured shutters: these are some of the elements that go to make up the picture.
And thus it is wherever we seek the handiwork of the Spanish artisan, in America or in Spain, his forms are always conceived with regard to the contrasts afforded by brilliant sunlight or deep shadow. This then is the message of Spain's architecture, and he who would build in this fascinating vogue must appreciate and abide by the ruling spirit of this sun-begotten style.