Mother Earth Living

Outdoor Living: A Southwest Tradition

From the simple but elegant ramada, a lean-to–style wooden structure, to high-end architectural al fresco living and dining areas, open-air spaces are part and parcel of the lifestyle that has drawn millions to the American Southwest.
By Nancy Nachman-Hunt
July/August 2004
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People have been refining the art of indoor/outdoor living from south Texas to southern California for hundreds—indeed thousands—of years. From the simple but elegant ramada, a lean-to–style wooden structure, to high-end architectural al fresco living and dining areas, open-air spaces are part and parcel of the lifestyle that has drawn millions to the American Southwest.

Southwestern weather creates conditions suitable for outdoor living: hot summers, mild winters, and refreshing breezes. According to outdoor-living advocate Suzi McGregor, co-author of Living Homes: Sustainable Architecture and Design (Chronicle Books, 2001), open-air floorplans in the Southwest can be traced to the time of the Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi), whose civilization flourished in the Four Corners region where New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah meet. Their stairstep-style adobe homes made one family’s roof another family’s terrace. When the Spaniards moved through the Southwest, they varied this theme, constructing houses with large interior courtyards and deep, wrap-around porches. Settlers from the East also built on the outdoor tradition, creating stand-alone screened-in sleeping structures called Arizona rooms.

With the advent of air conditioning, Southwesterners briefly forgot their out-of-doors traditions, but today sleeping porches, as well as outdoor cooking and eating spaces, are again high style. The renewal is all about connecting with nature, McGregor says. “We were made to breathe real air, not air that’s filtered and put through duct work.”








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