Transcultured Architecture: Mudéjar’s Epic Journey Reinterpreted


  • Ila Nicole Sheren Graduate Student, Massachusetts Institute of Technology



Spain, Latin America, Moorish Architecture, Transculturation


The Mudéjar phenomenon is unparalleled in the history of architecture. This style of architecture and ornamentation originated with Arab craftsmen living in reconquered medieval Spain. Embraced by Spanish Christians, Mudéjar traveled over the course of the next four centuries, becoming part of the architectural history of Latin America, especially present-day Mexico and Peru. The style’s transmission across different religions and cultures attests to its ability to unify disparate groups of people under a common visual language. How, then, did mudejar managto gain popularity across reconquered Spain, so much so that it spread to the New World colonies? In this article, I argue that art and architecture move more fluidly than ideologies across boundaries, physical and political. The theory of transculturation makes it possible to understand how an architectural style such as Mudéjar can be generated from a cultural clash and move to an entirely different context. Developed in 1947 by Cuban scholar and theorist Fernando Ortíz, transculturation posited means by which cultures mix to create something entirely new. This process is often violent, the result of intense conflict and persecution, and one culture is almost always defeated in the process. The contributions of both societies, however, coexist in the final product, whether technological, artistic, or even agricultural. I argue that mudejar in Latin America is a product of two separate transculturations: the adoption of Arab design and ornamentation by Spanish Christians, and the subsequent transference of these forms to the New World through the work of indigenous laborers.

Author Biography

Ila Nicole Sheren, Graduate Student, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

PhD Candidate

MIT Department of Architecture

History, Theory and Criticism Section




How to Cite

Sheren, I. N. (2011). Transcultured Architecture: Mudéjar’s Epic Journey Reinterpreted. Contemporaneity: Historical Presence in Visual Culture, 1, 137–151.