The Origins of Southwestern Styles

The C/G Clubhouse and Desert Mountain’s infrastructure could rightly be called “organic” by Frank Lloyd Wright’s use of term, meaning essentially that it is site-specific with its form resulting from both its function and its geophysical setting. It could also be called southwestern “regional” because it clearly doesn’t conjure up images of belonging in any place other than the southwest. The southwest is home to several architectural languages stemming primarily from its Spanish, Mexican, and Native American ancestry. Each of these cultures adapted the available building materials to the region’s arid climate by passing down their culture’s traditional building techniques from one generation to the next. At their very core then, “traditional” styles are the aesthetics that result naturally from the building skills that are inherited by the continued use of commonly available materials. Indigenous peoples had little concern for beauty. They were concerned almost exclusively with safety, security, shelter from the weather, and durability. Many in the modern world have come to admire the inherent beauty, simplicity, and durability of these ancient structures, and their appearance has often been emulated and progressively ‘stylized.’ perhaps, because these traditional styles allow one to imagine a simpler time.

Native Peoples
The native peoples of desert southwest stacked sunbaked mud bricks into simple circular and rectangular shapes, spanning between the walls with the longest pieces of wood they could gather. These pre-Spanish dwellings are exemplified by the Pueblo city-structures of northern New Mexico. The appearance of these monolithic, monochromatic structures is easy to cheaply simulate with sticks and stucco, so the economy of this ersatz style caused it to metastasize in the late 20th Century across the southwestern landscape. The Guest Casitas of the Boulders Resort and the Bowman House at Windmill in North Scottsdale are an example of this influence.

The Spanish Influence
When the Spanish conquistadors began colonizing central Mexico, they introduced new construction tools and techniques as well as new wheeled modes of material transportation. These advances enabled longer logs to be milled and allowed them to be brought from greater distances, thus making longer spans, larger rooms and pitched roofs possible. The pitched roofs and clay tiles that commonly covered them became the hallmarks of the buildings in the Spanish colonies and remain emblematic today of the Spanish Colonial style. The vocabulary of this style had matured over several centuries in Spain before being imported to the New World. When it arrived here, the wealthy embellished their buildings with the lush ornaments and motifs that had evolved in Spain. The Scottsdale Princess Resort and Conference Center is my interpretative adaptation of this Spanish Colonial vocabulary to a large-scale hotel complex.

The Mysterious Anasazi
The Anasazi people and their surviving stone structures at Chaco Canyon remain an enigma that stand alone among the prehistoric dwellers of the southwest. The complexity and circular geometry of their structures as wholly unique and the sophistication of their masonry is unmatched by any other Neolithic structures in North America. In seeking to anchor Desert Mountain solidly in the heritage of the southwest, I was inspired by the third era of Anasazi stone masonry and sought to emulate it in developing an enduring character for the community of Desert Mountain.

Non-Native Influences
Finally, the southwest was invaded by non-native ranchers, herders, and miners and in the mid-19th Century the railroads began importing all manner of manufactured building materials and components into the southwest. The railroads and mines built imposing industrial structures of timber and steel, clad in sheet metal and anchored to the earth with massive concrete foundations and buttresses. As the mines exhausted their ore and the pioneering workers moved on, the skeletons of these rugged structures remained behind as lasting symbols of an earlier time in the southwest. As a child we explored the ghost towns and back roads of Arizona and New Mexico I was moved by the bold utilitarian forms and durable material legacy of this era. These remains made history real, triggered my imagination about what life must have been in this remote and unforgiving territory.