Vigas are wooden beams used in the traditional adobe architecture of the American Southwest, especially New Mexico. In this type of construction, the vigas are the main structural members carrying the weight of the roof to the load-bearing exterior walls, and the exposed beam ends projecting from the outside of the wall are a defining characteristic often replicated in modern Pueblo Revival architecture. Usually the vigas are simply peeled logs with a minimum of woodworking. In traditional buildings, the vigas support latillas (laths) which are placed crosswise and upon which the adobe roof is laid, often with intermediate layers of brush or soil. The latillas may be hewn boards, or in more rustic buildings, simply peeled branches. These building techniques date back to the Ancestral Puebloan peoples, and vigas (or holes left where the vigas have deteriorated) are visible in many of their surviving buildings.
Since the modern Pueblo Revival style was popularized in the 1920s and 1930s, vigas are typically used for ornamental rather than structural purposes. Noted architect John Gaw Meem incorporated ornamental vigas into many of his designs. Contemporary construction in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is controlled by stringent building codes, typically incorporates ornamental vigas, although the latest revision of the residential building code gives credit for structural vigas. Older structures that have been reconstructed (e.g. the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe) may contain both structural and ornamental vigas.
In a study of modern ornamental viga use, the Southwest Sustainable Forestry Partnership Marketing Project found that modern vigas are typically about 10 inches in diameter and average 15 feet long. Where available, Engelmann spruce is the preferred wood "for the wood character and lack of cracking," but Ponderosa pine is more commonly used.
Pueblo Bonito, constructed by Ancestral Puebloan people between 850 and 1150 CE
Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde National Park
Viga holes in cliff dwellings at Bandelier National Monument
Mesa Vista Hall (1950), University of New Mexico, a modern building with vigas used as ornamentation
The Art Annex (1926) at UNM, a more abstract Pueblo style building, evokes vigas using stylized ornamentation
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- Groben, W. Ellis (1941). Adobe Architecture: Its Design and Construction (PDF). U.S. Forest Service. Retrieved March 29, 2018.
- City of Santa Fe (2012-01-11). "Draft Revisions to the Santa Fe Residential Green Building Code". Retrieved 2012-07-02.
- Southwest Sustainable Forestry Partnership Marketing Project (2009-08-29). "The Use of Wood Vigas in the Southwest Custom Home Market". Retrieved 2009-11-25.
- Bunting, Bainbridge (1983). John Gaw Meem: Southwestern Architect. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 0-8263-0251-3
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