Courtyards and Patios: The Right Name for Southwestern Shade

Courtyards and Patios: The Right Name for Southwestern Shade

A lot of people, who are new to Phoenix, AZ from other areas of the country, think they need a pergola on their patio or over their courtyard. Shade is really important in the greater Phoenix area where enjoying your outdoor living rooms in warm weather is concerned. In most areas of the US, giving a name to your patio shade structure means you want a gazebo or a pergola.

First of all, if you want a fully roofed shade structure, you are looking for a gazebo suited for the flavor of southwestern desert plains and mountains. Here in Arizona, a fully roofed or solid roofed shade structure is known as

A true ramada has a full roof, as opposed to a slatted roof for shade creation only.

A true ramada has a full roof, as opposed to a slatted roof for shade creation only.

a ramada. This term comes from the Spanish and Mexican influence of our desert architecture. If you are seeking a slatted shade roof, things get a bit more complicated. In the moisture rich regions, a flat, slatted roof shade structure is known as a pergola. If your non-solid roofed shade structure has an arched or peaked roof it is called an arbor. Here in the arid regions of the southwest, the proper name for such an open roofed shade roof is a trellis ramada.

The southwestern version of a pergola is made from more rustic materials than European influenced pergola designs. The original term ‘ramada’ comes from American Spanish and is related to the Spanish word ‘rama’, meaning branch. In historic adobe terms as defined by LAokay, ramada means ‘brush enclosure’. When you learn the rest of the Mesoamerican terminology for this type of shade structure, it is clear why they were once crafted from ‘brush’. No matter what Mesoamerican region you are in, these structures are open air and provide a family gathering place, a focal point of life, where relief from the baking desert sun is made possible.

Depending on what region’s language you refer to, the southwestern pergola or shade roof is known by different terms. In southern Mexico, the natives call these flat, open roofed structures ‘villas’. When you are in the region of Mazatlan, they call them ‘palapas’. There is a distinct difference in the construction materials of the palapa as opposed to villas, armadas or European pergolas. The readily available palm leaves in the region of Mexico around Mazatlan, created the roofing resources for the family shade structure. The palapa is much like a cross between a pergola and gazebo with a twist of the tropics because its fully enclosed roof is thatched in a fashion similar to the prevalent straw thatched roofs in Britain of old.

An Arizona pergola or ramada can provide simple shade for a small entry area or be larger.

An Arizona pergola or ramada can provide simple shade for a small entry area or be larger.

As you travel north from southern and central Mexico, drawing closer to the United States, the native term for flat, open-roofed shade structures is ‘trellis ramada’ in most local dialects. The materials of the traditional ramada tend to be more rustic and heavy weight than its European counterpart, as is fitting for adobe architecture. Hand hewn beams set closely together on rugged, even oversized support posts crated of masonry columns in stucco and natural stone are very prevalent in Arizona home landscape design.

No matter what you want to call your shade structure, the modern designs in Phoenix, AZ for courtyard and patio shade can be more refined; like a blend of the pergola and the ramada. Or, they can be very rustic and befitting the desert climate, the natural wild terrain and the adobe style home that has enchanted us for centuries on end as quintessential Arizona architecture.



  1. Latia Pettway

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  2. Author

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  3. Mark Barnoski

    Thank you so much, this was very interesting. I was actually born in Madrid ( not telling when though!) but moved around various parts of europe and lastly settled in England when I was a teenager. I dont remember much of the few years I was in spain, but the smell of spanish food always seems to get me going or something. Funny, how I dont remember anything except the smells,isn’t it! I even found a whole internet site dedicated to spanish recipes, which gave me great delight and thought I ought to share. Anyway, thank you again. I’ll get my son to add your website to my rss app…

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