On a recent trip to a small town in the state of Michoacán, Mexico, I visited a traditional casa-patio (patio-house). The Spaniards brought the layout for this type of home to Mexico in the 16th century when they began building towns and cities in the New Spain. Many of the homes in traditional Mexican towns have the same layout and although some have been modified to adapt them to modern needs, like in the case above where the house was split in two, the original layout is still very visible.Consisting of a central courtyard surrounded by porticoes and rooms these homes are similar to those found in Spain, especially in the region of Andalusia. These types of structures, influenced by Arab architecture, also have a similar layout to the traditional Roman domus (house of the upper classes) that included an open atrium that provided ventilation and light to the surrounding rooms. In the center of the atrium the impluvium would collect rainwater for use in the home.
Often, the patio-house was used for both private and commercial activities as the front rooms with direct access to the street were used for stores, offices and other businesses. The home's entrance is through the zaguán, (a Spanish word derived from Arabic) a covered entryway. Often the door to the zaguán is left open, relying on an interior iron gate (cancel or cancela) to protect the home from unwanted visitors. This allows one to peek into these homes from the street!
Many of these structures, like the one pictured above, were made of adobe (uncooked clay and straw bricks). This material --as well as being very eco-friendly-- provides favorable thermal qualities. During the day it takes a long time to heat up and at night it takes several hours to release the heat, providing a cool space during the day and warm place to sleep at night.