Native American architecture varies greatly from region to region throughout North America, and was influenced by factors such as climate, kind of community, and the natural environment. Whereas some buildings were designed and constructed for specified functions, others, such as Anasazi great houses, were massive multi-purpose structures. Because great houses from Chaco Canyon are so well preserved, it is possible to have a decent understanding of the structure of Anasazi architecture for analysis. A close examination of the innovative Anasazi great house architecture of the Chaco Canyon region reveals its utilitarian value.
Chaco Canyon, located in northwest New Mexico, is full of plateaus and canyons. Though the area may appear unsuitable for habitation, the Anasazi were able to adapt to this environment by building homes using materials found in abundance around the Chaco Canyon region. (Fig. 1) The apartment style of building of great houses, "multistoried communal strongholds"1 , began to appear during the late ninth century, dying down into the twelfth century A.D.2 While wood usually had to be imported from a distance, sandstone was readily available and used primarily in this geometric style of architecture. Although no one knows the exact reasons why, the Anasazi moved to create these large complexes now known as great houses, breaking away from previously more traditional pithouse communities. Perhaps it was safer to commune as a large group, protecting themselves from enemies. Another possibility can be seen through examination of the heating and cooling benefits of the Chaco Canyon great house style of architecture.
Solar energy and climate were major contributing factors in the building plans of Anasazi architecture. The climate can be harsh in the Four Corners region of the country, with extremely hot days and very cool nights, unbearably hot summers, and frigid winters. In order to protect the inhabitants from their environment, the Anasazi architects incorporated their knowledge of the effect of solar energy on building materials, as well as location of the sun in determining how the structures may most efficiently either absorb or reflect heat. "A southern exposure would have taken advantage of the low, southern winter sun angle, helping keep rooms warm and light during colder seasons."3 In addition to heating and cooling the community, windows were strategically placed to focus the sun's rays, during the summer solstice, through the complexity of the architecture of these great houses.4 The summer solstice was not the only time of the year that interesting lighting would project through Anasazi homes; almost all great houses were constructed to face the south/southeast.5 As the sun rose in the winter, each room would warm progressively, and as the sun set, the insulation of the construction helped maintain a livable temperature. Another elemental factor in Chaco Canyon great house architecture was the greater ability to protect against wind and rain, as compared to smaller, less densely populated communities. Keeping most daily functions within one very large building area, work and play of the inhabitants did not have to suffer during inclement weather.
Focusing primarily on utilitarian and geometric form, the Anasazi were able to construct architecture not before seen in the Four Corners region of the United States. The very innovative Anasazi architecture form focused around common needs of the inhabitants, centering around a relatively focused area that would provide most life sustaining functions within some small distance. Figure 2 is a view of the masonry of the rear wall of the great house at Pueblo Bonito, a Chaco Canyon community, as well as circular rooms with benches.6 Without any method of transportation aside from walking, the majority of daily functions must take place within a reasonable distance of a permanent settlement. It was important that water, food, and...
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