Architecture of the Grand Canyon

If you ever take a trip down to the Grand Canyon, you won't be able to miss the stunning architecture designed by Mary Colter. As chief architect and decorator for the Fred Harvey Company from 1902-1948, Mary Colter designed many prominent buildings across today’s Grand Canyon National Park. Her buildings are prolific examples of vernacular architecture, allowing the surrounding landscape to dictate both materiality and form. Many of her buildings utilize local stone and timber, and she designed organic roof shapes to tie in with nearby rock formations.

Grand Canyon Historic Hopi House c. 1910 – Photograph from National Park Service Website


Built in 1932, The Desert View Watchtower mimics the traditional Puebloan-style towers. Although it looks similar to indigenous architecture on the exterior, the tower is constructed using a modern concrete foundation and steel framework.

The Desert View Watchtower


Up close, you can see the variation of the different stones used to construct the tower. This concept really adds to the complexity of the structure and helps capture the attention of passers-by.

The Desert View Watchtower, rock façade detail


The use of different shapes and sizes of the stones guides the viewer's eye to all aspects of the structure. This method is what makes the Watchtower that much more unique.

The Desert View Watchtower, steel railing detail


There is something mesmerizing about the incorporation of wood and various textures that were used to build the Watchtower. The added detail of the log sticking out of the structure is also very eccentric and distinctive.

The Desert View Watchtower, Glass window detail


These examples, as well as a few others by Mary Colter, were designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1987.

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