Analyzing Physical Characteristics that Support Sense of Place and Context-Sensitive Community Design in Santa Fe, New Mexico

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


New developments often lack regional identity and distinctiveness of place. Before the industrial revolution, landscapes were the result of social, cultural and environmental constraints. Currently, a strong sense of place is lacking in many American cities. Santa Fe, New Mexico, as an example, faces the challenge of integrating new development with existing historic areas. While the downtown central core of Santa Fe has a distinctive and unique character, the outlying fringes of Santa Fe County are being developed in ways that undermine the sense of place that is valued by its residents and visitors. Current county development patterns do not meld with the intimate, small-scale character of the older neighborhoods in the downtown central core areas of the city.

To address this issue, this thesis uses theory related to sense of place to identify distinctive characteristics that can be adapted for projects outside Santa Fe's central core. The study uses a mixed method approach, including a literature review and field study methods to assess Santa Fe's distinctive physical characteristics. The results are a set of contemporary community design guidelines for the Santa Fe, New Mexico region that address sense of place in the following categories: (a) Spatial Planning and Architecture: street design characteristics and their physical relationship to architecture; (b) Environmentally Responsive Architecture: architecture design characteristics that respond to the regional environment and Santa Fe Style; (c) Decorative Architectural Details: architectural detail design characteristics that respond to the regional vernacular and the Santa Fe Style; (d) Integration of Architecture and Landscape: open space design the physical relationship between the local landscape and architecture; and, (e) Landscape and Cultural Character: regional landscape and art design characteristics that respond to Santa Fe's environment and culture. The resulting design principles are expressed as guidelines to support sense of place and their application to new development in Santa Fe County.



Sense of Place, Design Guidelines, Community Design, Santa Fe New Mexico