¡Viva las Vigas!
Coming to terms with
Southwestern building

ADOBE is made from a silty soil composed largely of clay and sand mixed with water, poured into forms to make bricks, and left in the sun to dry. Additives such as straw, manure, and asphalt emulsion strengthen the mixture, which in the old days was also used as a plaster. Nowadays, several coats of cement plaster cover the bricks on exterior walls to improve resistance to the elements.

CASA is the Spanish word for home. It has nothing to do with magazines, except in our case.

CANALES are drain spouts, often decorative and made with wood or wood lined with sheet metal or roofing tar, that protrude through the roof PARAPET. Despite the effectiveness of canales for draining water during monsoon season—you don’t ever want to get caught under one when it rains—flat roofs are notoriously leaky.

COPING is a decorative and functional treatment to the top part of a wall, often made of kiln-fired bricks in TERRITORIAL-style New Mexico architecture, that prevents erosion of adobe walls.

CORBELS are large wooden brackets, often decorated in New Mexico, that help support ceiling beams, or VIGAS, and LINTELS.

A CORNICE is the ornamental molding, usually of wood or plaster, that runs around the walls of a room just below the ceiling or roof top.

GRINGO BLOCKS are wood rectangles laid into adobe walls during construction. Building houses of earth creates various carpentry challenges, among them attaching doors and windows to the walls. An easy solution is substituting wood blocks for adobe bricks in strategic locations around the openings for doors and windows. To hang a door, for instance, you can nail straight into the wood block, which gives a stronger attachment point than a nail in adobe. Once the home is plastered, no one is the wiser about how you cheated.

A HORNO is a free-standing, chimney-less bread oven used by the Pueblo Indians of the Southwest. Like many elements of Southwestern style, the functional horno has become a vestigial ornament used to accent the patio or courtyard of suburban homes.

Above: Hornos served as bread ovens for the Pueblo Indians of the Southwest.

Below: This corbel, the decoratively carved wood at the top of the column, helps support the ceiling beam.