Characteristics And Examples Of Spanish Colonial Architecture

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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Spanish colonial architecture can be seen in many parts of the world. The architectural style has distinct features which we can see in most buildings today, as we will extensively discuss.

So, what does the Spanish colonial architecture look like, and what are some examples? In this article, we find all the answers.

History of Spanish Colonial Architecture

Spanish colonial architecture became dominant in the Americas between the 16th and 19th centuries when Spain undertook Catholic missions. Additionally, it can be found in its former colonies and some non-Spanish colonies too.

History of Spanish Colonial Architecture

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The Spanish visited areas with weather similar to Spain’s, and replicating the architecture was not very challenging. The favorable conditions allowed a rapid Spanish influence, and their architecture has contributed to modern house designs today.

Characteristics of Spanish Colonial Architecture

1) Use of Local Building Materials

Since the Spanish were busy discovering new territories, they could not carry around building materials. Therefore, they had to use locally sourced supplies.

Use of Local Material

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The materials that the Spanish used were not complex and never required any industries or new skills to prepare. For instance, they never used glass or steel on buildings outside Spain.

2) Stone Foundation

The Spanish were mostly found in areas along the beaches or places with warmer temperatures, which need stone foundations for the houses to stand for long.

Stone Foundation

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3) Thick Stucco Walls

Thick walls were useful in regulating temperatures by keeping them cool during the day. And at night, the walls emit the heat they had absorbed during the day.

Thick Stucco Walls

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White stucco walls were made of sand, lime, and water, which can be obtained easily in most places. Stucco is still used in home décor todayand is one of the preferred materials for coastal area building.

Moreover, white stucco walls reflect the heat during the day and keep the house cool. Other architectural styles adopt the use of white walls too.

4) Adobe Walls

Adobe walls were dominant in Spanish colonial architecture, especially in parts like California and Florida. The adobe brick is made of mud and straw, materials the Spanish never had to bring on their ships.

Adobe Walls

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The adobe brick regulates the temperatures in the house while staying sturdy on the wall. Plus, it was quick and simple to make.

5) Slender Outside Doors and Minimal Windows

The Spanish colonial architecture doors are slender, and the windows are tiny. The purpose of this design was to trap the cool air inside and keep the warm air out. Additionally, the doors inside the house are large compared to the ones outside to allow for the free flow of air.

Slender Outside Doors and Minimal Windows

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The doors were strategically positioned to avoid direct sunlight and trap the ocean breeze. Also, the tiny and mostly circular windows had wooden shutters that could open during the day and close during the night. There was no use of glass or metal.

6) Wooden Beams and Shutters

Since wood was a reliable, locally sourced material, the frames of the houses were made of wooden beams. The exposed beams are a popular way to identify Spanish colonial architecture.

Wooden Beams and Shutters

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Other parts are made of wood, such as the doors and window shutters.

7) Red Tile Roofs

Red clay tiled roofs were popular among the Spanish, and they can be seen in every country the Spanish visited. The tiled roofs were functional just as much as they were aesthetic. The red color comes naturally; once you heat clay to create bricks, it turns red.

Red Tile Roofs

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Contrasted with the white stucco walls the Spanish preferred on their buildings, the red tile roofs looked aesthetically pleasing and distinct from other architecture-style homes.

8) Large Outdoor Patio/ Courtyard

The courtyard is present almost in every Spanish colonial-style home. Since the Spanish majorly visited areas with dry climates in America and other parts of the world, their architecture had to conform to the climatic needs.

Large Outdoor Patio/ Courtyard

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The function of the courtyard was to provide space for anyone to sit outdoors whenever it became too hot inside. Furthermore, the houses built by the Spanish settlers were L-shaped, creating a natural space for a patio.

9) Tiled Floors

Tiled Floors

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Tiled floors were used to regulate temperatures in the house and outdoors. The design choice not only worked aesthetically, but it brought a lot of advantages. For instance, the tiles, just like the thick walls, kept the temperatures cool during the day, and at night, the absorbed heat could be emitted to make the house comfortable.

10) Alfresco Kitchens

Alfresco Kitchens

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Alfresco kitchens were found outdoors. Unsurprisingly, cooking outdoors kept the house cool. Additionally, since the patio was available, the alfresco kitchen made it easier for families to dine outdoors.

11) Indoor Arched and Open Doorways

Spanish colonial homes have one thing in common all over the world, and that is the arched door design. Houses from the Spanish colonial period have large doors indoors, and the doorways are arched and often without any barriers.

Red Tile Roofs

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The only time you would find a door with a barrier was when it led to a private room. Otherwise, all the doors to the common areas are open. Plus, any doors made relied on locally sourced wood.

12) Vaulted or Flat Ceiling

A common feature in Spanish revival homes is the flat ceiling supported by large, dark wooden beams.

Vaulted or Flat Ceiling

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Flat roofs were easier to build compared to other roofing styles. Additionally, the hot regions the Spanish visited barely received any rainfall or snow, and there was no need for sloping roofs.

The flat roofs did a tremendous insulation job, regulating the temperatures in a house, making the choice a practical one.

13) Single Story

Single Story

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Most Spanish colonial houses are single-story houses. The houses never had too many rooms, but there was the need to have a ground and first floor. Since the Spanish colonial-style homes are found mostly in the coastal regions, it is cooler upstairs compared to downstairs. After all, the top floors are clear of any distractions that might block the sea breeze.

14) Minimal Decoration and Ornamentation

The Spanish were in a hurry to make as many discoveries as they could, and lack of time and labor would not allow them to build structures with intricate features. Furthermore, there weren’t too many readily available architectural ornaments.

Official buildings like the mission churches had ornamentations you rarely found in most Spanish-style homes.

Minimal Decoration and Ornamentation

The walls were pretty plain

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15) Bell Towers

Bell Towers

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The Spanish mission architecture involved building a mission complex with a bell tower. Afterward, the use of bell towers was replicated in residential houses. The towers provided stairs to access the upper floor and were aesthetically pleasing.

16) Outside Corridor

Outside Corridor

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The Spanish colonial-style houses were sometimes built right next to each other, with some rooms lacking access from the inside hence the need for outdoor corridors. The corridors are also areas for relaxing during hot afternoons.

Famous Spanish Style Houses

i) Manila Hotel

The Manila hotel is a historical gem and one of the oldest hotels in the Philippines. Built in 1909, the building was designed to rival the official presidential palace in the Philippines.

Manila Hotel

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The hotel has some strong Spanish colonial-style features, including white walls, a bell tower, arched doorways and windows, and a rather flat roof. The building strongly resembles the ones built during the Spanish missions.

ii) Banco Hipotecario Nacional

The Banco Hipotecario Nacional in Argentina was built in 1886 and has some Spanish architectural style features due to the vast influence the Spanish had in South America.

The building style of the Banco Hipotecario Nacional is not entirely a colonial revival movement but has a mixture of different styles. However, some features stand out that can be associated with the Spanish.

Banco Hipotecario Nacional

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The main entrance to the building is a large door with a curved top. The windows are narrow, as well as the outer doors of the upper floors. The walls are white, and the roof is flat. Inside the Banco Hipotecario, there is a wide space with large and curved entryways. Furthermore, the ceiling is supported by large wooden beams, which is a classic Spanish colonial style.

iii) Plaza Del Lago, Wilmette, Illinois

While the Plaza Del Lago has a red roof with white walls, just like the Spanish-style homes. The bell tower on the house looks like those of a Spanish mission church.

Plaza Del Lago, Wilmette, Illinois

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The doors are curved, and the windows are narrow, which are some features of Spanish colonial homes.

iv) Palm Beach Town Hall

The Palm Beach Town Hall is an elegant building with almost all its features taking after the Spanish colonial style designs. From the white walls to the curved doorways, small windows, a red roof, and a nearly flat roof, the hall is very Spanish in nature.

Palm Beach Town Hall

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Palm Beach Town Hall is just two stories tall, which is one of the common elements in Spanish settlements.

v) Santa Barbara County Courthouse

Santa Barbara County Courthouse

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The Santa Barbara County Courthouse has some key elements of Spanish colonial homes and buildings. Just like the features that the Palm Beach Townhall has, the Santa Barbara County Courthouse checks many of the boxes of what constitutes a Spanish colonial home.

vi) Kelso Hotel and Depot, Southern California

The Kelso Hotel and Depot in Southern California is a great example of the Spanish influence on the indigenous cultures of California and Florida. The house has the Spanish style in almost all its features.

Kelso Hotel and Depot, Southern California

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The hotel walls are white, and the roof is rather flat. There are curved entryways, and the windows are narrow. The roof tiles are red, and there is outdoor space for people to sit and relax.

vii) Gota De Leche, Manila

Gota De Leche, Manila

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The Gota De Leche, Manila, and the Kelso hotel have a lot in common. Manila and California were both under Spanish rule at some point, which explains the similarities between buildings in the two towns.

viii) Hotel de Oriente

The Hotel de Oriente is another example of how Spanish architecture has influenced buildings in the Philippines. With elegant interiors and well-designed outdoors, the building must have been, and still is, a marvel when it was built.

Hotel de Oriente

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The Hotel de Oriente has curved doorways and a relatively flat compared to what you see in Victorian architecture. The ornaments on the windows are not typical for Spanish homes but work perfectly on townhouses. The water in front of the building makes the Hotel a scene to behold.

ix) The Royal Mint of Spain

The Royal Mint of Spain

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If you have watched “Money Heist,” you are probably familiar with the architecture of this building as there is an extensive display of its models. If not, the flat roof, narrow windows, and white walls give away the Spanish design of the building.

x) The Parliament of Morocco

The Parliament of Morocco

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Morocco is just South of Spain, and one of the most important buildings in the country has Spanish colonial architecture features all over it, from the narrow windows to the flat roof. While the walls of the front facade are not white, the rest of the parliament buildings behind it have white walls.

Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts

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The Spanish colonial architecture had a chance to spread at a time when the Spanish missions were underway. The Spanish architecture seeped into the cultures of the different colonies, being part of their way of life to date. Still, it is not imposing as gothic architecturewould be, but once you see it, you can never unsee it.

Frequently Asked Questions About Spanish Colonial Architecture

i) What is the difference between stucco and adobe walls used in Spanish colonial homes?

The stucco walls were made of lime, water, and sand, while the adobe bricks were made of clay and straw. It is hard to tell the difference just by looking as the Spanish had white exterior walls in most of their homes.

ii) Why do Spanish homes have metal bars on the windows?

The bars allow the windows to stay open without anyone breaking into the house since most colonial homes are built in hot regions, and there is a need for lots of ventilation.

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Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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