Montrei architecture

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The earliest examples of architecture in Montrei were the plain adobe houses which were the most dominant style of housing before 1834. This style was simple and unpretentious, following Mejican styles and materials. These buildings were of simple adobe, timber, and ceramic tile construction. Most buildings of this type were square or rectangle in plan. Poorer families lived in simple one story houses, and those with more wealth, or those who acquired more wealth would frequently add on to the original house. All houses had at least two rooms, one living room, and a second sleeping quarter, most had three. Roofs were pitched, and made of wood with baked tile shingles. Windows and doors were few, as the adobe structure was weakened by too many openings. Only the largest buildings had covered porches, but this was uncommon.



Traditional refers to the style of houses (and occasionally shops) which is the persistent style of house building in Montrei. This house style originated from the home of Tomás O. Larquin, a merchant from the NAL who settled in Montrei in 1834. Due to Larquin's prestige and respect the style of his house was copied and became the dominant style, overtaking the formerly dominant Castilian Colonial and Mejican house styles prevalent before 1834.


There are three main periods of this style which are recognized:

Late Colonial


(1834 - 1904) The first generation of houses in this style usually followed Larquin's house almost exactly, practically copying the plan of Casa Larquin. While many were built in this style, a great number were built closely, but with a different plan. The reason was that these were rennovations of simpler Mejican style buildings (simple four sided one storey houses with pitched roofs). The innovation was the addition of a second floor constructed of wood from local pines. Like Casa Larquin, typical buildings of this period always featured an adobe main house, with a balcony on four sides. Walls, which enclosed the gardens would be built against the house, abutting the walkway which encircled the house on all four sides. A gate was installed at the terminus of the wall where it abutted the walkway. This gate allowed home owners to permit outsiders into the garden without having to enter the house.

Early Modern

(1905 - 1947) This second generation came about due to influence of Japanese and Filipino immigrants. As more and more Japanese settled in Montrei, they began to build houses like the late colonial house style, but adding a Japanese flair, particularly to the upper floor. Tile roofs similar to traditional japanese homes were added (similar to a mix of a pitched roof and hipped roof). The windows of the upper floors were made of wood frames covered in heavy oiled paper rather than glass, and instead of doors, xodji were used (both the windows and xodji had protective wooden panels which slid over them from the interior for protection at night. The lower storey had a more traditional Montreiano look with glass windows, heavy shutters, and heavy wooden doors. Both storeys had open floor plans with fusuma, rather than heavy walls.

Filipino immigrants brought with them their style of Spanish colonial houses. Rather than adobe second floors, these immigrants often crafted the entire second storey of wood rather than adobe. The ground floor was usually constructed of stone rather than adobe (primarily because the Filipino immigrants tended to come from more affluent families than the earlier Japanese immigrants who tended to be fishermen). Different from either the late colonial or Japanese influenced early modern, some of the earliest houses of Filipino families looked very much like the Spanish Colonial homes (bahay na bato) of the Philippines (and some did away with the veranda altogether, preferring a fully enclosed second storey, which overhung the lower storey).

Not long after Filipinos established themselves did they build their houses more in line with other early modern style houses. However, they still maintained the wooden second storey, but included open verandas. Instead of wooden or glass doors and glass windows, Filipinos in Montrei preferred to import the traditional screens fitted with capiz shells, which like xodji slid open to provide plenty of light and air. Grilles called "ventanillas" were added above the windows and doors to provide air flow in stormy or dreary weather (these could be closed off with small wooden panels during the winter). Like the Japanese houses, heavy wooden panels were slid over the screens to provide security at night.


(1948 - ) The modern style is a compromise between the tradition of the late colonial, the Japanese influenced and the Filipino influenced houses. At first, this style was a conglomeration of imports from Japan or Bornei-Filipinas, however, in later years, architectural features began to be produced locally. Instead of paper xodji, and capiz screens, similarly styled wooden frames were fitted with frosted glass to replicate the look.

Fusuma were restricted to the upper floors, but only to divide rooms to allow opening them up, as primary room division was with solid walls. Exterior decoration is simple, like Japanese, and even late colonial styles with plaster between exposed timber frames, but also influenced by Filipino models.

The Modern House in Detail

The modern style has evolved since its first appearance in 1948. Forms are much more modern, the use of adobe or stone changed to wood framed buildings constructed to allow for a larger floor plan. Both floors feature larger windows and doors, which are now fitted with clear glass rather than the traditional frosted glass. Windows almost follow Filipino forms with windows extending nearly floor to ceiling on the upper floor, where they've traditionally been much smaller, and more typical of the late colonial style. These windows feature larger panes of glass, or in the most modern of homes, the entire window is one pane.

The front of the building always features a second storey upper balcony, which may act as a veranda, or as a covering for the walkway in front of the building. If there is a veranda on the first floor, the support posts will extend from the ground to the roof. A variation of this exterior is a cantilevered balcony without support posts extending from the second storey balcony to the roof. This is sometimes considered a different style, but most experts consider it just a variation. This variation was useful where there was no setback from the walkway (and especially for poorer households). It was also popular in the early modern style by Filipino immigrants as it was similar to variations of their bahay na bato style from Bornei-Filipinas. For both variations, there must be at least one balcony.

The first floor is reserved for the livingroom, a dining room, a bathroom, and a small closet. The kitchen is not traditionally located inside the house, but in a smaller building away from the main house. The most modern houses will feature a kitchen within the house, but generally only the wealthy install them inside. The livingroom is separated from the dining room by a hallway, which functions as a foyer. The end of the hallway usually features a steep set of stairs leading to the second floor. Past the stairs, and partially underneath is a small bathroom, usually with one toilet and a sink. Bathrooms are the only rooms featuring a hinged wooden door, for privacy. The stairs also usually feature a small closet in front of the bathroom. Usually, there is also space above the small bathroom for storage of items like blankets or boxes.

As you walk down the hall you see to either side the livingroom or the dining room. The livingroom is the bigger room and features fusuma, used to divide the room to make it smaller, or to create a sleeping area for guests. Guest generally do not leave the first floor, as the main bathroom The diningroom is a single room, undivided, with a door at the back of the room. In most homes it opens into to a covered walkway which leads to the kitchen building behind the house.

The second is reached by walking up a flight of stairs, opening into the second floor at a small hallway. The small hallway surrounds the opening from the first floor to the second. There are approximately three bedroom areas, one master bedroom segregated from the others, and two larger communal bedrooms, separated by a short access hallway to allow people to enter the second story veranda without passing through the bedrooms. Both larger bedrooms are able to be divided by fusuma into smaller rooms. The bathroom occupies the smallest space, towards the back of the house. The master bedroom does not have its own bathroom. Similar to Filipino models, a small family room is often included upstairs.

The Property

A typical property for a Montrei style house, late colonial or modern is generally about 70 feet wide by 100 feet deep. More affluent owners often have a much larger property, even within the city of Montrei. The Tonelairo-Molaira House property is nearly three acres. If the total amount of property was set within a perfect square, it would equal about 630 feet on each side (the property is actually irregular, shaped more like a keystone).The newest properties are usualy only about half of the typical 70 by 100 foot wide traditional lot. behind the house is the traditional kitchen building, called a "cusineta". This building is usually small, generally no bigger than ten by ten feet square inside, but includes enough room for an oven and stove and a small table. If a homeowner has servants, they eat here. Informal meals for middle class and poorer families is usually eaten in the kitchen building. There is also a pantry for storing foodstuffs. The kitchen building is usually located directly behind the part of the house with the dining room, as the two are connected by a covered walkway. The walkway is usually no closer than 10 feet from the house. The reason Montreianos have been reluctant to include kitchens in their houses is usually said to prevent infestations of insects, keep the house cool, and also to mitigate the danger of fires. However, these days it's become more a matter of tradition than anything else.

There is always enough room behind the house for a garden. A large front garden is generally unheard of. The garden was usually where vegetables for the family were grown, but in modern times these gardens have given way to ornamentals. The garden is always walled, as fences are considered too costly to maintain, and a waste of good timber. This wall was traditionally made of adobe bricks, but limestone is popular, and in more modern times, fired bricks became the common material. This wall demarcates the property line, and often these walls are all connected with each other. Montreianos do not consider their gardens public space and walls are generally fairly high (walls of nearly 10 feet in height are not uncommon). For added security, incredibly thorny plants are usually trained onto the tops of these walls, particularly roses, but more popular is bougainvillea, which is almost impenetrable once established (and provides intense color). Access to the garden is through a heavy gate or through the house.

If any tree is ubiquitous on a Montrei style home's garden, it is the Pauma de las Canarias - the Canary Island Palm (Phoenix canariensis), which became popular in the late 1800's, and soon turned into a status symbol as the middle classes begain to emulate the decorative gardens that the homes of the rich popularized. The rich popularized this palm because it was seen as a symbol of regal elegance and prosperity(it is also the prime tree which lines Montrei's boulevards and avenues). It is what has given the city of Montrei the nickname of "Çuá de Paumas" - "City of Palms". Some neighborhoods have so many it appears the houses sprung up around a forest of Canary Island Palms.

While the back garden is often beautifully planted, the front is usually unplanted due to the lower veranda abutting the sidewalk. The minimum setback for the actual house (not including the veranda and porch) is 5 feet. Most homes have a lower veranda and upper balcony this wide, but some are as wide as ten to fifteen feet. Due to the lower veranda abutting the sidewalk, and running the entire face of the house, there is usually little to no room to plant anything. An occasional house will have the entire building far back to allow some planting, but generally homes are not set too far back on the lot. As there is little room for a garden out front, ontainer gardening is popular with some families, but by and large all of the planting is behind the house in the garden.

Lawns are only used in front or surrounding public buildings, or playing fields. To add a lawn in your garden is considered wasteful, and a strange custom that the people from the NAL-SLC do. However a good many immigrants sometimes convert part of their gardens into lawn.

Form and Function

It is thought by design historians that the reason this style became the dominant style of residential architecture in Montrei is due to several reasons.

  • Protection - The primary reason for the popularity of this style is that the wide eaves are said to protect the moisture sensitive adobe from deterioration in winter rains. Frequent maintenance of the lime plaster was necessary to stop water from seeping into the adobe brick and causing them to crumble. With the protection from the eaves, the rain in winter is less likely to reach the adobe walls, except in the windiest storms. It also provided protection from the sun. While in Montrei the sun is never very intense, in hotter parts of the nation, the eaves provide shade which keeps sunlight out of house interiors, helping to keep them cool. Unlike heavy blinds, plenty of bright light is permitted, but not direct sun.
  • Indoors outdoors - The eaves provide not only protection of the building and moderation of temperatures inside the house, but they also provide outdoor rooms, by allowing residents to sit outside when the weather permits. A frequent sight in spring and fall is Montreianos entertaining each other on the upper verandas.
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