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Latin American Architecture

native elements, Spanish colonial architecture, Inca Empire, Caribbean islands, Colonial architecture

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Latin American Architecture, architecture created in colonial settlements of the Americas after the arrival of Iberian (Spanish and Portuguese) conquerors around 1500, also called Ibero-American architecture. The first settlements built by Iberian colonists were in the Caribbean islands; those in Mexico, Central America, and South America followed. Latin American architecture also includes the buildings of Spanish colonists in North America, especially in Florida, California, and Texas.

The term Ibero-American architecture is useful for distinguishing the Iberian-influenced traditions of Central and South America from the predominantly English and northern European architectural traditions of North America. Yet the term misleadingly suggests that there is a single shared building style or unified architectural history in Latin America. In reality, tremendous variations in culture, geography, and climate within this vast region counteract the unifying influences of Iberian colonial culture. Latin America encompasses the primitive Native American settlements of the tropical Amazon River basin; the advanced Andean mountain cultures of the Inca Empire in Peru; the quaint, Alpine-style towns of German settlers in southern Brazil; and the formal English grandeur of Spanish Town, Jamaica. The terms Ibero-American and Latin American architecture also fail to account for the significant differences between the Spanish and the Portuguese cultures in Latin America. The Portuguese, who began to colonize Brazil in the 1530s, produced an architecture that generally followed European styles more closely than did Spanish colonial architecture.

The architecture of Latin America documents the European conquest of the region and the domination of the native peoples. Although the conquest destroyed much that was native, the colonial culture that subsequently developed in Latin America also absorbed some native elements. Colonial architecture reflects a rich mixture of European styles with the traditions of Native Americans and of Africans who were imported as slaves. In its modern form, Latin American architecture involves a search for a unique cultural identity. In theory this identity rejects colonial and even modern European traditions, but in practice it builds upon them, transforms them, or adapts them to the special requirements of Latin American places, climates, and attitudes.


Underwood, David K., B.A., M.A., Ph.D.

Lecturer, Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University. Contributing Editor, "Latin American Art". Author of "Oscar Niemeyer and the Architecture of Brazil".

Article key phrases:

native elements, Spanish colonial architecture, Inca Empire, Caribbean islands, Colonial architecture, conquerors, Africans, climates, Jamaica, domination, Mexico, Peru, Florida, slaves, Texas, attitudes, California, South America, North America, Central America, geography, theory, reality, climate, Americas, region, search

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