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Southwest Design - Viga Beams

Updated: Jun 3, 2023

Many custom homes at Diamond Tail include vigas as an interior design element. Vigas are wooden beams used in the traditional adobe architecture of the American Southwest. In traditional construction, vigas are the main structural members carrying the weight of the roof to the load-bearing exterior walls. The exposed beam ends projecting from the outside of the wall are a defining characteristic of Pueblo architecture and Spanish Colonial architecture in New Mexico and often replicated in modern Pueblo Revival architecture.

Usually, the vigas are simply peeled logs with minimal 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 the ancient ruins – such as the Aztec National Ruins in New Mexico.

Today, viga beams are found in a variety of southwest style homes. The beams are round or square wood logs that span the width of the ceiling. Often, the beams have naturally occurring cracks which add to the character of this element. As an added feature, some homes are designed to have the beams emerge from each side of the exterior of the home reprensenting the traditional adobe style.

Viga beams, though beautiful in their natural wood state, can also make quite the statement when painted an accent color, or even stained a much darker hue to really highlight their unique qualities. When paired with a tongue and groove ceiling, the overall look can be quite artistic, showing beautiful craftsmanship.

Engleman Spruce, Pinyon Pine, and Pondersosa Pine are the most commonly used types of wood for Viga beams. Pine is more commonly used as it is a very accessible wood.

Engleman Spruce beams are known for the beautiful deep, but not damaging, cracks that can give a home character. These trees grow very straight and tall and are known to be structurally supportive. Thought, due to newer building codes, the Viga beams you see in new construction homes are most likely ornamental and are not needed for structural integrity.

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