Folk Houses in Mexico’s Northern Borderlands: Surviving Symbols of Sustainability on the Cultural Landscape

By Scott S. Brown.

Published by The International Journal of the Constructed Environment

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Folk housing is a symbol of material culture that geographers, anthropologists, and architects often employ in understanding regions and places and the people that live within them. The folk house serves as a clear expression of human culture. Due to the continuity of traditional lifeways throughout Mexico, even in the northern borderlands, I use the folk house as an appropriate tool in which to interpret the cultural landscape. The preservation of cultural heritage and the relative abundance of traditional folk houses is impressive, especially in light of proximity to the United States and the increasing presence of globalization. The built environment in this region, especially in many of the smaller towns and rural areas, retains a charm that is reminiscent of places further south in Mexico and the rest of Latin America.
The traditional built environment in northern Mexico manifests a complex cultural history as well as practicality and adaptability to environmental conditions. The variety of folk house types reflects a syncretization of multiple cultures, most notably Native American, Spanish, and, to a lesser degree, pioneer Anglo-American influences. While these traditional dwelling forms reflect cultural history, they continue to manifest the interrelationship between the inhabitants and their environment, especially in regard to climate, vegetation, and available resources. Each of these house types, whether it be the more ubiquitous flat-roofed adobe dwellings of the drier lands, the gable-roofed jacales of the humid gulf coastal lowlands, or the timber cabins of the highlands, reflects both the cultural and environmental forces at work. The overarching intent of my research in Mexico’s northern borderlands is to emphasize its folk cultural landscapes as surviving symbols of sustainable relationships between people and the earth.

Keywords: Folk Housing, Cultural Landscape, Culture History, Adaptation, Sustainability, Mexico’s Northern Borderlands

The International Journal of the Constructed Environment, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp.147-164. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.879MB).

Dr. Scott S. Brown

Associate Professor of Geography, Department of Political Science and Geography, Francis Marion University, Florence, SC, USA

I have been teaching geography at Francis Marion University since 1999. My regional specialization is in Latin America while my main thematic areas of interest include cultural geography and cultural ecology. My research is focused on folk housing and its context within both the cultural landscape and the natural environment of Mexico and Central America. Currently, I have become more interested in issues regarding folk housing as an alternative for more sustainable living and more aesthetic cultural landscapes. I also teach a variety of courses which include cultural, political, economic, and tourism geography, as well as geography of Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East. I take great pride in helping students to become geographically literate and appreciative of world cultures. My greatest pastime is traveling the world in order to study landscapes and bring the world to the classroom based on my own first hand experiences.