Eagles Nest Architecture Series: Spanish Colonial and How it Differs from Its Close Tuscan Cousin

Presented by: Eagles Nest Architectural Committee

Of all the architectural styles influencing the southwest ranch theme of the Eagles Nest custom home community in Arizona, Spanish Colonial stands out as the only Mediterranean-influenced style. The two dominant influences of Mediterranean architecture are those of Spain and Italy. The basic design elements of these countries are similar, but there are subtleties critical to each.

Spanish colonists and missionaries to the Sonoran desert brought with them building methods and designs common in the arid regions of Spain. Spanish Colonial structures tended to be utilitarian with little ornamentation. Most had thick walls, heavy massing, and low-pitched roofs with shallow overhangs that also extended over covered porches. Exterior materials were indigenous structural stone, adobe and brick often covered in sun-dried clay. When this style was introduced, it was typical to construct a simple dwelling, and when more space was needed, other rooms would be added to the original structure over time. Thus, a rambling geometry evolved and massing was likely to be haphazard and free form. Hence, a common characteristic of Spanish Colonial architecture is an asymmetrical and multifaceted form.

Eagles Nest Tuscan

While very similar in materials, roof characteristics and arched windows and doors, Italian Tuscan architecture tends to be more symmetrical evoking Roman and Greek influences. Tuscan has more delicate detail and ornamentation on the exterior trim such as balustrades, windows, and doors and homes often include classical European features such as columns, terraces, curved pediments, classical cornices and overhanging balconies supported by decorative brackets. Finer finishes such as tile mosaics and interior wall murals are also common features as is the use of imported material such as travertine. Tuscan architecture is often described as being more feminine than Spanish Colonial. It was not a traditional cultural influence on the Sonoran desert region and why it is not an appropriate style for Eagles Nest.

A classic feature of Spanish Colonial architecture is a common courtyard that often includes a narrow, arched porch running along the interior courtyard. Typically, rooms did not open into one another, but onto the common courtyard surrounded by the original structure and later annexes. Historically, the courtyard let families move the cooking and its accompanying heat and steam outside. Today, these courtyards act as informal gathering places with lush colorful landscaping and shade.

Eagles Nest Tuscan
Distinguishing exterior features of the southwest Spanish Colonial house style include:

  • Heavy, organic massing using indigenous stone, Mexican cantera and stucco with little ornamentation.
  • Low-pitched gable, hip or shed roofs with clay tiles and little or no overhang. Overhangs typically include exposed wooden roof supports projecting out over the exterior walls.
  • Barrel shaped tile trim
  • Tall arched windows
  • Small accent windows echoing historical open penetrations, often accented by wrought iron cross bars or grates, intended to capture breezes while avoiding the direct rays of the sun.
  • Recessed porches and balconies
  • Courtyards with fountains, landscaping and arched porches creating cool, shaded enclaves
  • Square, bell-tower like chimney turrets
  • Painted tiles, wrought iron and woodwork – often with carved doors

The Eagles Nest Design Guidelines encourage the use of Spanish Colonial architecture not only for it’s significant historic and cultural relevance to the region, but also because it was the precursor to the southwestern ranch style architecture rooted in the theme of the community.