Spanish Revival Architecture: Characteristics & Features

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Revival movements are an important part of architectural traditions around the world. In this lesson, we'll talk about the Spanish Revival style, and see what defines this unique approach to architecture.

Colonial Revival Architecture

In many places around the world, revivalist architecture (that which emulates past styles) is a common way to connect to a national heritage. Think of it like wearing a piece of jewelry or clothing from an ancestor. Are you trying to be that person? No--but it is a nice way to connect to your heritage. That's what revival architecture is all about. In the United Sates, some of the most popular revival styles emulate designs of the colonial period. There's just one problem here. Not all of the United States was part of the same empire. The 13 original states of the East Coast embrace a colonial revival style based on English traditions imported to North America. However, places like New Mexico, Arizona, and Southern California were never part of the British Empire. They were part of the Spanish Empire. So, reviving colonial styles means something a little bit different in these places with a different colonial ancestry.

Spanish Revival Architecture

While colonial revival styles were becoming very popular in the United States during the early 20th century, states in the West and Southwest embraced their heritage through a unique style called the Spanish Revival. As the name implies, this style emulates architectural traditions of the Spanish Empire in North America.

Now, right off the bat we need to talk about what this is, as well as what it is not. The Spanish Empire was widespread from California through South America, and there was never a single, consistent architectural style. So, Spanish Revival architecture is not defined by strict rules of style but instead by an aesthetic, by a feeling. Spanish Revival architecture is meant to embrace the feeling of Colonial Spanish styles, a feeling captured by exaggerating certain features. We'll get to those in a minute, but it's important to understand that this is a very eclectic style, meaning it is made by mixing and matching elements of various styles to produce a desired visual impact. All revival styles are inherently eclectic, but this one is especially so. In fact, many architects simply call it the Spanish Eclectic style.


The Spanish Revival style is all about capturing the feeling of colonial New Spain, not about pretending that we're still part of that world. So, the features used to create this impact are very important. Now, again, this is an eclectic style without strict rules, so there's a wide amount of variance here, but these are some of the most common elements of the Spanish Revival style.

Spanish Revival Office
Spanish Revival

Let's start by looking at the roof. Spanish Revival roofs tend to be low-pitched, and often even flat. More noticeably, however, they also tend to be covered in red tiles. This is one of the most immediately recognizable traits of the style. Moving into the façade, Spanish Revival structures tend to feature stucco exterior walls and rounded arches over windows and doors. The overall appearance is asymmetrical, yet balanced.

Spanish Revival House
Spanish Revival

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