By: Willard B. Robinson

Type: Overview Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: July 25, 2017

Texas architecture reflects a remarkable variety of cultural influences, physiographical conditions, and technological advancements. Over a long period of colonization and settlement, people of different nationalities with ingrained customs and taste erected a variety of buildings in forms recalling their social backgrounds. These were situated in regions with diverse character ranging from arid West Texas, largely treeless, to semitropical East Texas, heavily forested. In the beginning, materials of construction naturally came from the locale of buildings, although eventually technology and taste produced certain similarities of design throughout the state. For analysis, historic Texas architecture can be organized into six periods: Indian or precolonial (to 1682), Spanish colonial-Mexican (1682–1835), Republic-antebellum (1835–61), Victorian (1861–1900), Early twentieth century (1900–1941), and Modern (1941–90).

Indian or precolonial. The earliest residents of what is now Texas were nomadic peoples. They erected no permanent structures, but made use instead of such natural shelters as caves and rock overhangs, or lived in temporary structures made of animal hides, wood, or grasses. Anthropological findings of later Indian peoples reveal that before the Europeans arrived at least four basic cultural groups had evolved in the future Texas, each reflecting its particular geographic and environmental setting. The Coahuiltecan and Karankawan peoples, who inhabited the coast of southern Texas and the Trans-Nueces, lacked formal political organization and, like their more ancient ancestors, did not erect permanent structures. By contrast, in the Trans-Pecos the Jumanos and Patarabueyes inhabited villages consisting of houses with mud-plastered pickets and roofs of adobe, probably placed over saplings, grasses, and bark. Farther north in the Panhandle a pueblo culture, similar to those in Arizona and New Mexico, flourished between A.D. 1200 and 1500. These peoples constructed one-story pueblos with walls of horizontal masonry and double rows of stone slabs set on edge, oriented to the cardinal points of the compass. Dramatically different were the peoples of the Plains region, the Comanches, Lipan Apaches, Kiowas, and Tonkawas. Their culture, based on buffalo hunting, required them to wander throughout the vast expanses of Central and Northwest Texas in search of the great herds. They relied for shelter on hide-covered tepees that could be readily disassembled and transported. In Northeast Texas, Indians of the Mississippi valley culture flourished, among them the various Caddo groups. A sedentary, agricultural people, they constructed large, round, thatched shelters, some up to fifty feet in diameter. They also built large earthen mounds typical of the Mississippi culture.

Spanish colonial-Mexican. From the end of the seventeenth century through the eighteenth century, Spanish missionaries and soldiers brought to Texas building types and construction techniques they had known at home. On a remote and sometimes dangerous frontier, they established missions with chapels, convents, apartments, and various service structures; presidios with fortifications, chapels, barracks, and storerooms; ranches with dwellings and, in some instances, defensive works; and towns with plazas, commons, churches, and dwellings-all according to Spanish traditions and laws. Spanish colonists employed familiar methods in the construction of shelters and buildings. In heavily forested East Texas, palisado walls of wooden pickets, well known for centuries in Spain and throughout Europe, enclosed rooms roofed with thatch in both missions and presidios. Chapels, apartments, and other spaces of San Francisco de los Tejas Mission, for instance, had walls of posts planted vertically in the ground. Meanwhile, in West Texas, the jacal, a type indigenous to Mexico, sheltered countless families. Walls were formed with brush or branches contained between pairs of posts spaced several feet apart and plastered with mud. Roofs were either thatched or covered with hides. Particularly in arid and semiarid regions, adobe construction also was common. Walls were made of sun-baked mud bricks laid up in thick beds of mud with openings spanned by wooden lintels. Roofs were either gabled and thatched, or were flat and covered with earth or lime concrete carried upon beams, sometimes hewn. These types of construction, indigenous to the land, remained in use well into the twentieth century, when shingles and other types of roofing replaced thatch and earth. When stone was available, masonry walls enclosed numerous cubical houses, roofed with either thatch or earth. Often, slightly inclined, earthen roofs were surrounded with parapets and drained through canales, projecting channeled troughs. In several instances, on locations exposed to attack, loopholes were included and windows were omitted. Commonly, houses were one-room structures, although on occasion, two or more rooms were situated end-to-end. In some instances, as in Spain, rooms and walls were situated to enclose a court. A beehive-shaped horno, or oven, made of mud and grass and located outdoors, was employed for cooking.

Numerous mission chapels were hastily thrown up with a variety of building techniques. Jacals, palisados, or small adobe rooms containing altars were among the first shelters set up at any mission. Although missionaries certainly intended to replace these with more durable works, in many instances the mission was abandoned before large permanent structures could be built. Near El Paso and San Antonio, durable chapels were constructed. The chapel of Nuestra Señora de la Concepción de Socorro Mission, adjacent to the Rio Grande, was executed with thick adobe walls. Both the nave and transepts, which were added much later, were spanned with vigas bearing upon corbel blocks. At San Antonio each of the five missions eventually built a stone chapel with a design based upon customs in Mexico. The most famous of these, San Antonio de Valero Mission, the Alamo, established in 1718, has an incomplete chapel executed between 1744 and 1756, with a Baroque portal similar to a number of Mexican examples. The Chapel of Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña Mission (established in 1731), the best preserved of the Texas missions, has a portal with Plateresque details. A beautiful Ultra-Baroque portal with niche pilasters was completed at San José y San Miguel de Aguayo Mission (established in 1720), commonly regarded as the "Queen of the Missions." At both San Juan Capistrano (1731), and San Francisco de la Espada (1731), durable chapels were built, but with little ornamentation.

During the Mexican period (1821–35), relatively little architectural progress was made beyond the construction of dwellings and some military work, although several new towns were established, including Bastrop (laid out in 1830), Liberty (founded in 1831), and Gonzales (founded in 1832). A poor economy, along with religious and political turmoil, precluded noteworthy undertakings and, for that matter, even maintenance upon existing buildings.

Republic-antebellum period. During the Republic of Texas and the years that followed until the Civil War, other cultural traditions were brought to Texas by Anglo-Americans and European immigrants, both seeking land and opportunities. New towns were populated, farms developed, and military posts established, all reflecting the traditions and previous customs of the builders. In regions where trees were available, log cabins were common to Anglo-American settlements as well as those of some European immigrants. They required few tools for construction and were used for virtually every type of building, including dwellings, churches, courthouses, schools, jails, barns, and forts. Both single-crib and double-crib houses were common. In the latter, known as dog-trot or dog-run houses, the rooms were separated by a breezeway. Ordinarily, log cabins had only a single story, but occasionally attics were included. In any instance, porches ordinarily extended along the south side of dwellings; porch roofs shaded the walls and provided a protected space. A fireplace was usually placed at a gable end of dwellings. Regardless of type, cabins were assembled with horizontal logs, sometimes hewn or partially hewn. Logs were notched together at corners utilizing several types of joints. Spaces between them were filled with wooden chinks, rocks, or moss and mud. Roofs were finished with boards, shakes, or shingles. Though no type of log construction can be specifically attributed to any particular ethnic group, Fachwerk structures were peculiar to German settlements. Fachwerk consisted of hewn frameworks joined with mortise and tenon joints, secured with treenails (wooden pegs). Panels formed by the framework were infilled with either brick or stone nogging, but some openings were framed for doors and windows. Porches were the adaptation of European custom to the hot Texas climate.

As the country and economy developed in antebellum Texas, neat wooden, brick, and stone buildings also appeared in various communities and on numerous farms. Texans, like people in other regions of America, yearned for order and cultural refinement reflected in tidy houses and public buildings. Both were considered important to the development of communities as desirable places to live and raise families. Sophisticated architecture, critics believed, refined public taste and positively influenced people's attitudes. Numerous frame and masonry buildings were plain, but others were distinguished by historic styles, including the Greek Revival style, which dominated Texas architecture from 1840 to 1870. Though often referred to as Southern Colonial, the Greek Revival Style is neither southern nor colonial, since it first appeared in the East in the early nineteenth century. It was introduced into Texas by both experienced builders and authoritative publications. It featured geometric order, formal balance, and decorative details. Its principal feature was derived from the classic temple form of ancient Greece, the temple portico or porch with a roof supported by a row of columns. These columns were of three types or orders: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. The Greek Revival style is formal in character, the building being arranged symmetrically about a central axis, the hall, which is flanked by rooms of the same width that give the desired balance. The doorway is flanked by an equal number of windows on each side, and centered on the front of the house is a porch that features columns of one of the classical orders. The Greek Revival style marked numerous houses, school buildings, some courthouses and churches, and even an occasional commercial building. Nationally, its simplicity and dignity seemed to make it appropriate for a country with limited means but with needs for refined architecture. Symmetrical porticoes commonly distinguished houses and some churches and courthouses. Dignifying the exteriors of these, pilasters, columns, and entablatures, ordinarily fashioned from wood, were based upon examples found in pattern books, although builders freely innovated upon these. A number of noteworthy plantation houses, as well as city houses, represented these developments. The simple frame house of the Anglo-American settler, however, continued to be the principal type of house built in Texas until the Civil War. But even frame houses were often given a few classic details, such as a cornice, capped posts on the porches, and multipaned double-hung sash windows, all of which gave them a resemblance to the larger Greek Revival houses. As the farthest extension of the Old South, Texas possesses some of the most recently built Greek Revival homes, which can be seen in San Antonio, Austin, Waco, Jefferson, and Marshall. The Governor's Mansion (1854–56), in Austin, built by Abner Cook, is one of the most representative examples of the Greek Revival style in Texas. Greek Revival forms and details also marked many other important public buildings. The old Capitol (1852–54; burned 1881) was a monumental work with an Ionic portico. The Galveston Post Office and Custom House (1858–61), designed by the Treasury architect, Ammi B. Young, displays both Doric and Ionic orders. On a smaller scale, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (1860), in Marshall is a temple-type edifice with square columns and a simplified Doric order.

While the Greek Revival, along with straightforward designs, was common in evangelical churches, Gothic Revival styles marked a number of Catholic and Episcopal churches. Pointed arches, steeply pitched roofs, and buttresses were basic, but a number of variations of Gothic appeared, in some instances reflecting the backgrounds of the builders. Several Catholic Churches, including St. Mary's Cathedral, Galveston (1847), were designed by French emigré architects. Builders in Fredericksburg, a German community, recalled in St. Mary's Church (1861–63) the Gothic of their homeland. Episcopal houses of worship featured characteristics ultimately derived from rural English churches and disseminated in America through publications and the work of English immigrants.

Adjacent to the public square of Anglo-American communities, a typical spatial form brought west, commercial buildings were executed with masonry fronts, either one or two stories high. Ordinarily, street-level openings were spanned by semicircular arches with French doors and fanlight transoms; when a second story was included, it often had segmental arches and double-hung windows. Ornamentation of parapets with a wide variety of brick or stone patterns is a distinguishing feature-characteristics that continued to mark many commercial buildings during the Victorian period.

Victorian. Following the Civil War, from 1870 to 1900, Texas caught up with the mainstream of American architectural fashion, which was the Victorian, so called in the absence of a better name to encompass the multitude of stylistic expressions of that complex period. The exuberance of the Victorian style reflects a period of rapid expansion and new fortunes. In Texas, as elsewhere in America, the Victorian period was marked by revolutionary changes. Numerous new towns were founded, railroads were rapidly extended, and the westerly regions were progressively opened to farming and ranching. At the same time, in large cities outside investment was solicited and new industries were established, contributing to the prosperity essential to opulent architecture. Meanwhile, such buildings as libraries, opera houses, schools, hospitals, and public markets all improved the life of communities. Evolving technology favored the development of cities and architecture within them. During the last two decades of the nineteenth century, waterworks, sewerage systems, electric-light companies, gas works, ice plants, telephone systems, and rail transportation all improved sanitation and afforded numerous conveniences in many towns. Meanwhile, organized fire departments reduced the amount of damage caused by fires in various cities, virtually every one of which had over time been devastated by one or more incendiaries. Building construction and comfort were facilitated by mass production of building components, both wooden and metal. For interior comfort, ventilation devices were introduced, steam heat was developed, and electrical lighting was installed in many buildings. Economical railroad transportation made building materials and products manufactured elsewhere readily available in Texas, although many were still produced at home.

In the wake of Reconstruction, turreted mansions began to spring up in cities and towns all over the state. In contrast to the restrained classicism of the Greek Revival style, the Victorian style was rich in detail, exceedingly ornate, and designed to achieve a romantic and picturesque effect. The buildings were seldom symmetrical, but were characterized by the off-center tower and projecting bay. The whole was intended to be a balanced composition. Many materials were now available to the builder; these were often combined to achieve greater richness. Sawmills had become widespread, and frame houses were given elaborate gingerbread trim, made possible by the jigsaw. Architectural motifs from many historic styles were combined in an eclectic fashion, with the Medieval Romanesque and Gothic vying with the Renaissance for popularity. New views on architecture influenced building aesthetics. Appreciation of beauty of proportion and details-characteristic of the antebellum period-was replaced by admiration of character and opulence. In part achieved with historic forms and styles, character denoted the particular purpose of a building combined with a distinctive image. Associations with the historical development of particular styles made function evident-for instance, general knowledge of medieval European cathedrals and churches readily associated the Gothic Revival with churches. Opulence along with picturesqueness was achieved by the use of a variety of materials, and historic styles were characteristic and much admired. The features of various styles sometimes were mixed into eclectic, original compositions, albeit sometimes without unity. Polychromy and patterns achieved through combinations and treatments of materials were characteristic. These attributes were evident in countless houses in picturesque styles, with fanciful towers, porches, chimneys, bay windows, dormers, spindlework, punch work, shingle patterns, and decorative glass. At the beginning of the Victorian period, these were simply applied to traditional plans, but eventually asymmetrical, picturesque forms prevailed. Numerous historic and novel styles appeared in Texas Victorian houses. The Queen Anne, characterized by turrets and picturesque massing, distinguished numerous large dwellings throughout the state. The Eastlake style, with its spindlework and gingerbread, enriched numerous other houses on various scales. The so-called Stick Style, identified by the articulation of exterior wall surfaces of frame buildings into panels, added further variety. Distinguished by Italian Renaissance details, the Italianate style also dignified numerous large dwellings. The Mansard-roofed Second Empire Style and the Roman-arched Romanesque Revival mode lent imposing images to yet others.

Many Texas cities and towns preserve a rich legacy of Victorian architecture. Among the impressive surviving monuments of the era are the Driskill Hotel (1880), Austin, by Frederick E. Ruffini, the Turn-Verein Building (1892), San Antonio, by James Wahrenberger, and the Albert Maverick Building, San Antonio (1881), by Alfred Giles. Of all the cities in Texas, Galveston was undoubtedly the richest in its collection of Victorian architecture. One of the state's first professional architects, Nicholas J. Clayton, practiced there and added many fine buildings, including the Gresham house, now known as the Bishop's Palace. During the Victorian era civic and commercial architecture became important, and many handsome courthouses, banks, opera houses, and hotels were constructed. The most significant building to be built during this period was the Capitol, completed in 1888. This impressive red-granite structure was designed by Elijah E. Myers of Detroit, Michigan, in the Renaissance Revival style and inspired by the national Capitol in Washington. The building was originally intended to be of limestone. However, there was not a sufficient supply of the quality required to be found in Texas, so granite was used. The ruggedness of the granite gives the building a unique character, and the tall cast-iron dome has become symbolic of the state's most important building. Many towns took pride in their public buildings, which were collectively viewed as signs of progress. Situated prominently on public squares, county courthouses were commonly the most imposing buildings of a county, reflecting their importance as both a social and governmental center. Designed in a variety of styles and laid out to facilitate cross-ventilation, they are announced by central clock towers and have four similar fronts. Often they had such technological improvements as iron and wrought-iron structural systems. Among the numerous noteworthy examples are the Hill County Courthouse, Hillsboro (1889), a large edifice in eclectic style with a lofty tower designed by W. Clarke Dodson, and the Renaissance Revival-style Ellis County Courthouse (1894–1896), designed by James Riely Gordon. Usually standing nearby on the public square was the county jail. Architects and clients occasionally favored the medieval castellated style, which gave the impression of strength, although other styles also were used. Surrounding the courthouses and lining main streets leading to the public square were various types of commercial buildings, also considered as signs of progress. Large plate-glass windows, cast-iron supports, and sheet-metal cornices and window hoods-the products of technology-superseded the all-masonry fronts of antebellum days, although brick and stone were still extensively employed for visual interest. In such large cities as Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston, commercial buildings of three to six stories incorporating technological advances became sources of considerable pride. Among the best examples of these is the Cotton Exchange in Houston (1888), designed by Eugene T. Heiner, which, like other buildings, employed a variety of styles and mixture of details and materials to produce an individuality and opulence appealing to the public. Ordinarily standing at the corners of street intersections and reflecting prosperity, banks and opera houses were particularly prominent, a situation well represented by the Sealy Bank Building (1895–97) and Tremont Opera House (1870), both in Galveston. Houses of worship, prominently situated in neighborhoods adjacent to commercial districts, accented the skylines of most communities. Many churches were built during the last two decades of the nineteenth century, with the Medieval styles, Romanesque and Gothic, being favored by the liturgical religions such as Catholic and Episcopal. For example, St. Mark's Episcopal Church, San Antonio (1875), designed by Richard Upjohn, the architect of Trinity Church in New York and the leading Gothic Revival architect in America, was inspired by the Perpendicular Gothic of England; the old San Fernando de Béxar Cathedral in San Antonio, extensively remodeled by François P. Giraud between 1868 and 1878, was based on French medieval models; and St. Mary's Cathedral, Austin (1870), designed by Nicholas Clayton, was executed in the High Victorian Gothic style. In numerous instances, evangelical churches were distinguished from liturgical edifices by broad auditoriums and corner entrances, evident in the First Baptist Church, Dallas (1890), designed by Albert Ullrich. Moorish styles, on the other hand, projecting associations with Near Eastern architecture, characterized a number of nineteenth-century synagogues. Among the other noteworthy Victorian buildings were the railroad depots, which formed gateways to towns. Scaled according to the size of communities, these were linear structures, with both passenger and freight facilities, stretched along the tracks. Various stylistic and decorative devices emphasized their importance, a tendency evident in the Union Depot, Fort Worth (1899). Such service structures as roundhouses-other products of technology-were also numerous, although most are now gone, along with numerous depots.

Early twentieth century. The years following the turn of the century witnessed continuing immigration and growth of towns and cities throughout the state. Cotton, lumber, cattle, and oil aided a growing economy that fostered cultural development. Meanwhile, new industries and trade pumped up the economies of metropolitan areas, facilitating the building of pretentious edifices, both public and private. During this period, architecture throughout the United States embodied new aesthetic ideals aimed at achieving noble images reflecting cultural advancement. Influenced by the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, design principles called for formal compositions and classical vocabularies. The impressive effects attainable with unified classical design based upon monumental Renaissance architecture were well demonstrated by the overall plan and official buildings of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. This impressive achievement profoundly influenced taste throughout the entire country. The architecture of the first half of the twentieth century reflects the growing unity of architectural expression throughout the United States. Regional characteristics rapidly disappeared as a result of the spread of popular taste and the uniformity of architectural fashion. During the first thirty years of the twentieth century eclecticism was the accepted form of architectural expression. While subscribing to formal principles, numerous critics and architects advocated architecture that reflected some characteristics of its locale. One approach to regional design called for historic styles associated with particular ethnic groups that had settled in an area. Another viewpoint advocated styles that had evolved abroad in certain countries or terrains as types for buildings in regions of Texas with comparable physiographical conditions. A Spanish-inspired mode, the Neo-Plateresque style, of the first buildings of Texas Technological College, for instance, was intended to recall the Hispanic heritage of Texas. The Bhutanese style of the Texas School of Mines and Metallurgy (now the University of Texas at El Paso), located at the foot of the Franklin Mountains, was inspired by a Tibetan monastery in the Himalayan Mountains. These motifs, along with a variety of others, are displayed in Texas houses. At the turn of the century, some of the picturesqueness of the Victorian period still prevailed, but compositions of forms were bilaterally balanced, and classical details soon replaced Eastlake and other features. Eventually, large houses projected stately images through a variety of Classical styles in formal compositions. Monumental pedimented porticoes and extensive balustraded porches contributed to their stately yet residential character. Small houses featured a variety of styles, including Tudor, Spanish Colonial, Colonial, Georgian, and Italian Renaissance, as well as Mission Revival and Pueblo Revival. By the early years of the twentieth century another influence was being felt in Texas, an attempt to break free of historical precedents, and to forge a new, wholly modern style. The most important of these influences was what became known as the Prairie style. It originated with Frank Lloyd Wright and a group of creative Chicago architects, and rapidly spread through the new suburbs of Texas. Pure examples of the Prairie style, such as the Trost residence (1909), El Paso, by Wright protégé Henry C. Trost, are rare, but vernacular examples, spread widely by pattern books and popular magazines, appeared throughout the state between 1905 and 1915. Even more influential was the Craftsman or Bungaloid style, inspired primarily by the work of Charles S. and Henry M. Greene in California. Like the vernacular examples of the contemporaneous Prairie style, the Bungaloid style was spread through pattern books and popular magazines. The one-story Craftsman house or bungalow became one of the most popular designs for small houses, and numerous examples were constructed in the state between 1905 and the late 1920s.

While regional or early modern designs appeared in many residential edifices after the turn of the century, civic buildings generally were either Beaux-Arts Classical, a massive, heavy, monumental style, or Neo-Classical Revival, a graceful, dignified mode. The Harris County Courthouse, Houston (1911), a massive work, crowned with a dome designed by the firm of Lang and Witchell, exemplifies the former, while the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1924), a handsome work with an Ionic colonnade designed by William Ward Watkin, represents the latter. In small towns, commercial buildings largely conformed to Victorian standards, but in the cities office buildings formed new skylines. Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Waco all built noteworthy skyscrapers rising boldly above their surroundings. Such achievements were made possible by technology that had been developed in such cities as Chicago and New York, including methods of structural framing and fire protection of beams and columns. These developments were well represented by the Southwestern Life Insurance Company Building, Dallas (1911–13), a sixteen-story work with a clearly expressed skeletal structure consistent in design with Chicago School work. Like other types of buildings, both churches and schools echo a variety of motifs. Indicating associations with an important chapter in the history of Christianity, a number of Catholic edifices were built in the Italian Renaissance Revival style, which recalls Renaissance Rome, while others were either in Gothic or a Mexican Colonial style, the latter echoing cultural roots in Texas. Reflecting origins in the Church of England, Episcopal churches were mostly in some variation of the English Gothic, consistent with earlier buildings. Classical styles, Gothic modes, and regional variations all marked Protestant churches, although Presbyterians showed a predilection toward the Romanesque Revival. The Palladian Revival, based upon ecclesiastical work of Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio, distinguished yet others, particularly a number of Baptist churches. Similarly, a variety of stylistic features characterizes schools, both public and private. Catholic and Episcopal schools usually reflected their affiliations through Gothic styles. College, university, and high school buildings, often on a large scale, all appeared in a variety of modes, including Neoclassical Revival and Georgian Revival. Among the important developments during this period was the evolution throughout the state of the public high school into a dominant building type. Housing classrooms, auditorium, gymnasium, shops, offices, and other facilities, the high school became a complex entity that accommodated large numbers of students. Spaces were organized into formal yet functional compositions contained within forms juxtaposed to facilitate efficient cross-ventilation and admit high levels of light. On the exteriors, patterns of openings and solids suggested function, while various decorative features, both geometric and stylistic, enriched the buildings, reflecting importance and projecting character. Among the best examples of such educational facilities is El Paso High School (1914–16), designed by Trost and Trost.

The period between 1920 and 1940 also witnessed the emergence of the Art Deco or Moderne style. As its name suggests, Art Deco was inspired by the 1925 Paris Exposition des Art Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes. Much like the Prairie style that flourished a decade earlier, it represented an attempt to come to terms with the dramatic changes brought on by industrialization and modernization, and sought to break free of historical precedents and to forge a modern expression. Early Art Deco buildings, such as the Gulf Building, Houston (1927–29), designed by Alfred C. Finn, and the State Highway Building (1932), Austin, designed by Carleton W. Adams, made use of ornate geometric motifs. After 1930 a more stripped-down variant of the style, sometimes called Moderne, or Streamlined Moderne, became popular. Numerous Moderne shops, gas stations, movie houses, and roadside diners featuring characteristic smooth surfaces, glass blocks, and curved corners were constructed before World War II. Hybrid versions of the two styles, such as the remarkable Conoco station on Route 66 in Shamrock (circa 1936), were also common. Unfortunately, these developments were hindered by the Great Depression. After the crash of 1929, building activity slowed within the state. Although numerous public-works projects were undertaken during the 1930s under the aegis of such federal as the Public Works Administration and the Work Projects Administration, private building was considerably retarded until after World War II. Numerous public works during the 1930s displayed features of the Art Deco, among them the Texas Centennial Park, Dallas (1936), planned by George L. Dahl, the San Jacinto Monument (1936), Houston, designed by Alfred C. Finn, and the Houston City Hall (1939), designed by Joseph Finger.

Modern. Though World War II brought an upturn in the economy that eventually stimulated the construction industry, much of the new activity initially served the war effort. Upon conclusion of hostilities, construction of houses and public buildings resumed; inflation, however, reduced the return on expenditures. During the postwar years, many clients demanded economical buildings with functional designs based upon historic traditions. The beauty and associations resident in the Georgian Revival and the Gothic Revival still made these styles attractive for numerous types of building, including houses and churches. A number of other institutions, among them colleges and universities, also built conservatively. Southern Methodist University, for example, continued to construct buildings in the Georgian Revival style, maintaining the theme of the institution's earlier buildings. Numerous church buildings were still designed in both the Georgian and Gothic Revival styles. After 1945, however, the so-called International Style increasingly influenced design throughout the state. Calling for the elimination of applied decoration and the rejection of historical styles, architects of the postwar era advocated straightforward, functional planning, machine-produced building components, and asymmetrical composition. Incorporating these characteristics, the International Style featured skeletal structural systems with curtain walls treated as skins "stretched" over them, emphasizing geometrical patterns. Buildings were viewed as compositions of volumes, rather than masses. Plain boxes with large areas of transparency became hallmarks of modernity. Particularly notable examples of this trend include the Tenneco Building, Houston (1963), and One Shell Plaza, Houston (1971), both designed by Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. In a number of instances, modern appearances were achieved by simplifying traditional forms and the application of new technology. Churches, for instance, still were planned according to traditional spatial requirements, but were designed with laminated wood, steel, and concrete structural systems free of historic stylistic decoration. In numerous instances, the demand for progressive, modern images resulted in the remodeling of old structures, particularly commercial buildings and public edifices. Typically, historical details were either removed or covered, and aluminum, glass, and plastic components were added, all echoing new technology. During the Modern period, developing technology had a phenomenal impact upon architecture. Innovative steel and concrete structural systems made possible unprecedented spans of space, as well as new means of architectonic expression. The Astrodome, Houston (1965), and Texas Stadium, Irving (1971), are impressive technological achievements. Another important trend in the post-World War II era has been the growth of massive suburban developments on the periphery of the state's larger cites. Tract housing, frequently designed by contractors rather than trained architects and repeated serially, has come to dominate residential building throughout the state, and entire communities, such as Richardson, Plano, and Clear Lake, have grown up as a result.

At midcentury, several leading modern architects from outside the state executed important works in Texas that were certainly inspirational if not influential. In 1958, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe completed a major addition to the Museum of Art, Houston, a steel and glass work with a clearly articulated structure illustrating his idea that "less is more." Shortly thereafter, Philip Johnson, who earlier had executed a number of works in International Style, designed the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, Fort Worth (1960), a clearly ordered work with the stateliness of a Greek temple. At about the same time (1959), Frank Lloyd Wright oversaw the completion of the Kalita Humphreys Theatre, Dallas, a monolithic concrete work exemplifying his concept of organic architecture. And Louis I. Kahn conceived the design for the Kimbell Art Museum (1972), Fort Worth, a sublime work with post-tensioned concrete cycloidal vaults, symbolizing a perception of permanence. Such Texas architects as David R. Williams, who developed the Texas ranch-style house; O'Neil Ford, who designed the Trinity University campus, San Antonio, and the Texas Instruments Semi-Conductor Building, Dallas (1958); Caudill, Rowlett, and Scott, who designed the Jesse H. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, Houston; and Howard R. Meyer and Max Sandfield, who associated with W. W. Wurster of California to design the Temple Emanu-El, Dallas (1953–59), are among those who have achieved national recognition. Noteworthy technological advances in all phases of life brought increasing large and complex building functions. Massive shopping malls, large medical complexes, new college campuses, and expansive airports all were complex products of growth and technological advances, requiring a teamwork approach to design and construction. Representative is Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (1973), an entity architecturally determined by the need to handle complex traffic patterns.

Eventually, the simplicity and lack of poetic content of Modern architecture attracted considerable criticism. Modernity had failed to satisfy the need for decoration and meaning. Consequently, Texas architects, like those elsewhere, searched for new types of expression that included both current technology and references to the past. In the design of Herring Hall (1986) for Rice University, Houston, for instance, East Coast-based architect Cesar Pelli drew upon features of the first campus buildings, yet through technology and spatial organization produced a noteworthy work indicative of its time. Houston-based Taft Architects created a colorful, jazzy postmodern idiom that brought the firm wide recognition. After the disastrous destruction of numerous buildings in central business districts under "urban renewal" programs during the 1950s and 1960s, the preservation movement became a significant force in Texas architecture. As a result of the leadership of such agencies as the San Antonio Conservation Society and the Texas Historical Commission, protective legislation was passed and various programs were implemented to assist the preservation and restoration of historic buildings. Among the most significant restoration projects undertaken is the restoration of the Capitol (late 1980s to middle 1990s). Throughout the latter half of the century, much architecture was noted for originality of design. Unique forms and patterns were employed to produce distinctive images, particularly in commercial work. Particularly noteworthy are the skyscrapers of such cities as Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. At the same time, a revival of interest in regional design character occurred. Such attributes as climate, local traditions, and local materials were viewed as significant informants of design, tying buildings to their locale. Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, Helotes (1991), a work recalling traditional forms and materials of the Hill Country by Clovis Heimsath Architects, well represents modern regionalism. Such contrasts between high-tech and vernacular design illustrate the rich diversity of Texas architecture. Variety contributes to the cultural richness of cities, towns, and rural areas, reflecting particular attributes of the people and the land to which they belong.


Drury Blakeley Alexander and (photographs) Todd Webb, Texas Homes of the Nineteenth Century (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1966). Joel Warren Barna, The See-Through Years: Creation and Destruction in Texas Architecture, 1981–1991 (Houston: Rice University Press, 1992). Dorothy Kendall Bracken and Maurine Whorton Redway, Early Texas Homes (Dallas: Southern Methodist University, 1956). David G. De Long, Historic American Buildings, Texas (2 vols., New York: Garland, 1979). Jay C. Henry, Architecture in Texas, 1895–1945 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993). Historic American Buildings Survey, Texas Catalog, comp. Paul Goeldner (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1974?). Terry G. Jordan, Texas Log Buildings: A Folk Architecture (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1978). Willard B. Robinson, Gone from Texas: Our Lost Architectural Heritage (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1981). Willard B. Robinson, The People's Architecture: Texas Courthouses, Jails, and Municipal Buildings (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1983). Willard B. Robinson and Todd Webb, Texas Public Buildings of the Nineteenth Century (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1974). Elizabeth Skidmore Sasser, Dugout to Deco: Building in West Texas, 1880–1930 (Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 1993). James Wright Steely, comp., A Catalog of Texas Properties in the National Register of Historic Places (Austin: Texas Historical Commission, 1984).

  • Architecture
  • Peoples
  • French
  • Germans
  • Austin
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • El Paso
  • Galveston
  • Houston
  • San Antonio
  • Southwest Texas
  • Central Texas
  • North Texas
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Willard B. Robinson, “Architecture,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 21, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

July 25, 2017

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