Themes: Housing

Dwellings in Mexico and Central America


Building types

Houses in Mexican and Central American villages sometimes reveal influences of Spanish colonial architecture, but more often are simple, single and two-story, adobe dwellings, usually with rooftop access.  It is normal for extended families to live together in traditional houses; grand parents, parents and children occupying rooms off an internal courtyard, each family member contributing to their communal welfare, with men and women working in fields to grow staples such as maize and rice.  At the centre of most villages is the church, usually a large and elaborate building, the focus of important festivities. Beyond the village, there are sometimes large haciendas (extended farm houses) housing wealthy landowners in one part of the building, and estate workers in another. 


Building materials

Adobe blocks are often used to build traditional homes.  Clay, sand, straw and water are mixed together, moulded into square forms and left to dry in the sun.  The hardened blocks are then bonded together to build external and internal walls, finished with plaster rendering and sometimes brightly painted.  This creates internal spaces that remain cool in summer and walls that retain warmth in winter.  Heavy timbers support flat roofs and rainwater is directed away by spouts, keeping the adobe dry.  Window openings are usually small, to avoid losing or gaining heat. Entrances often have heavy wooden doors, and floors are tiled with brick or wood. 



There is usually a brick stove, possibly shaped like a beehive, providing heat for cooking and warming the house in winter.   People use locally produced terracotta pots for cooking and storing water or oil.  Home-made tin candle holders provide internal lighting where there is no electricity.  Families typically use heavy wooden tables and chairs, sometimes carved in traditional patterns. Woven fabrics in bright colours and strong patterns are common for soft furnishings, including wall hangings.