Settled Spaces: Tejano Architecture, 1690 - 1836

Before the border between Mexico and the United States was drawn in 1848, generations of Spanish and Mexican soldiers and settlers had arrived in the frontier north of the Rio Grande. They intermarried, crossing racial boundaries; they started families and put down roots; they applied for land grants and established garrisons, towns, ranches, and homesteads. My book project tells the story of these settlers and their spaces in an architectural and social history that traces the family networks, placemaking practices, and built environment of Spanish and Mexican habitation in Texas. In drawing a portrait of these “settled spaces”, I seek to unsettle the dominant perspective on Tejano architectural history: namely, that little such history exists, apart from the missions and presidios that have been preserved along the San Antonio River. This misperception is part of a pervasive historical narrative which reflects the Anglo-centric interpretation of the region as a no-man’s land civilized by American industry starting in the years leading up to the Texas Revolution.

My project offers an alternative perspective that foregrounds the agency of Spanish and Mexican families whose architectural knowledge and social practices created the built environment of a mature culture prior to American annexation. I re-contextualize this architectural history within Tejano lifeways: the patterns of military life, the environmental prerogatives of stock raising, and the influence of kinship ties. I follow the networks of entanglement that connected soldiers, settlers, and their environment; identify spatial typologies such as the fortified house that blur the lines between military and domestic contexts; and trace the legacy of these typologies in historiography and design, arguing that the spatial form of towns and ranches were rooted in the principles of enclosure and interiority, which cannot be understood separately from the social structure of Tejano families.

©Marie Saldaña 2023