How was Incan architecture adapted to the geographic challenges of the Andes and how are these structures relevant in modern day Perú? (Photo Credit: María Paz Morillo)

By: Antonia Rosales, María Emilia Andrade, María Paz Morillo, Gabriel Baus, Mateo Hernández


Our joint project for our English and Ecuadorian and American Studies classes consists of a self-designed research question regarding the Inca civilization and Machu Picchu. After our trip to Perú with the school, we had to write a research paper with a topic of our own. We came up with a question based upon Inca architecture in Perú and how it was built so masterfully that it has been capable to withstand landslides and earthquakes after 500 years. Our investigation covers the topics reached in our question like the geographical challenges of Peru and what adaptations were made in their architecture to endure them. This question is answered in a formal research paper complete with evidence gathered during our field trip, and backed up by academically legitimate sources that we looked for online through Google searches as well academic databases like EBSCOhost in Colegio Menor, Quito. The evidence gathered shows techniques that the Incan empire used to build their monuments and structures to help them survive. We also decided to look for evidence about how the remaining structures of the Incas now serve a purpose today in Perú, and we did this ourselves while we visited famous Incan sites by analyzing the shape of the walls and asking the guides about them. We came back to Quito and looked for the same information in pages about Inca architecture so we could make sure that the information we gathered in Perú was true.

Mix of a modern street sign on top of Incan bases (Photo Credit: María Emilia Andrade)

Research Question: How was Incan architecture adapted to the geographic challenges of the Andes during the 15th century and how are these structures relevant in modern day Peruvian society?

Our research question is very specific because it is solely directed towards one topic and will remain focused on the adaptations of architecture regarding geography and its challenges. The Incas settled in a very complicated part of Peru, in the Andes, where the risk of landslides, torrential rains, and earthquakes are significant. Incan architectural methods are directly related to the Incas, since sites such as Machu Picchu and Sacsayhuaman exemplify Incan architecture. Our research question can be fully answered by comparing Incan archeological sites with modern architecture in Peru. Our research answer will provide an opportunity for thorough analysis and discussion which will eventually result in a better understanding of architecture and adaptation techniques that can be mimicked and improved in order to be used in present and future architecture.

Incan Sloped Wall in Cusco Topped by a Modern Building (Photo Credit: María Emilia Andrade)

Hypothesis: Incan architecture adapted to the geographic challenges of the Andes by building retaining walls on the sides of mountains to prevent landslides and sloped walls towards the center to prevent their buildings from falling apart during seismic activity, which enabled many Inca structures to remain intact until now and serve a social purpose in modern society.

This hypothesis directly and fully answers our research question by naming a specific architectural technique addressing adaptations to Andean geographic challenges, and exploring the relevance of Incan buildings today. This high degree of specificity prevents leaving any parts of the question unanswered or unclear. We can confirm or reject this hypothesis by investigating about architecture in Perú built by the Incas, analyzing specific buildings and structures like the Plaza de Armas or other ceremonial buildings that have not changed much since they were built, and evaluating how they are used today, looking for how they were built to resist geographic challenges.

Rooftops in Cusco on top of Incan structures (Photo Credit: María Emilia Andrade)

Research Methods: Our research methods consisted of finding academically legitimate information through the use of websites, books, and experts on our topic.

By using historical books found in the Colegio Menor library and academic journal articles accessed through EBSCOhost and Google, we complied reliable sources. Our sources were trustworthy; those online articles that were not found on EBSCO were revised, we made sure that the websites we used were academically legitimate by analyzing their content and comparing their information with other EBSCO articles. We analyzed, among others, the article “A Marvel of Inca Engineering” by PBS, which talks about the geographic challenges and architectural techniques the Incas used.

When we visited museums and important archaeological sites during our trip, for instance Qorikancha, we paid attention to the techniques used by the Incas and asked experts about the efficiency of these techniques. We analyzed the architectural strategies used by Incas in sites such as Sacsayhuaman, Ollantaytambo, and the Plaza de Armas. When we went to Peru, we examined and took pictures of architecture such as Inca buildings, as well as colonial churches and plazas.

Terraces and Retaining Walls in Ollantaytambo (Photo Credit: María Paz Morillo)

Conclusions: Incan architecture adapted to the geographic challenges of Perú with retaining walls that prevented landslides and sloped walls that prevented the destruction of these buildings during earthquakes; these techniques have allowed structures such as the Plaza de Armas to maintain their relevance in modern times, as important cultural and religious sites.

We confirm our hypothesis because we gathered evidence which directly backs our claim that Incan retaining walls helped the soil stick together and prevented landslides. Additionally, we are able to connect our hypothesis with evidence about specific places where the Incas adapted to the Andes by making sloped walls. We also found evidence which confirms the second claim within our hypothesis that there are Inca buildings which remain largely intact whose presence still has a social purpose, as structures such as the Plaza de Armas remain central to the city’s festivities .

Research shows that the Incas made retaining walls strategically to keep the mountains that they built on stable. These walls had solid bases that went up to three meters underground and were filled with topsoil, gravel, and granite, and included a drainage system so floods or water could not affect the structure of these walls (Wright, 2009). This made these walls resistant to climate and prevented erosion. Additionally, the outside walls in the buildings had an inclination of around five degrees inward from the bottom of the wall to the top, giving the building a trapezoidal shape that was used in doorways and windows to absorb the energy of seismic waves (Cartwright, 2014). This inward inclination was very common in the structures that we observed in in the field such as the temple of Qoricancha. The historian Marc Cartwright, in his article “Inca Architecture,” confirmed that the slope served as protection of the buildings. The importance of sloped walls was confirmed when two large earthquakes in Cusco destroyed most buildings in 1650 and 1950, but not those structures that had Inca foundations (Perupicchu, n.d.).

The Plaza de Armas is a perfect example to confirm that Inca buildings retain their relevance today. This structure, previously the main plaza in Cusco during the time of the Inca as well as the colonial period, remains the most important plaza in modern Cusco. Many critical events have taken place there, such as the proclamation of the Spanish conquest and the death of Túpac Amarú, the leader of a massive rebellion in Perú against the Spanish (Boundless, 2016). Today it is a plaza surrounded by many commercial shops, located next to the Iglesia La Compañía, a church constructed by the Spanish on top of an Incan foundation. The plaza is still used by the municipality as a gathering place during big celebrations such as the Corpus Christi, a celebration that includes many statues of saints from different cities gathering to salute the body of Christ, and free concerts during the city’s various festivals.

The Incas indisputably produced some of the best architecture in history. They carefully thought out each building and developed techniques to place every block perfectly. Many of their structures are still standing, demonstrating the power and magnificence that was regarded as something ordinary 500 years ago. These buildings have witnessed the downfall of the Incas, the downfall of the Spanish in America, and the growth of an independent nation. We admire how the Incas were able to overcome the challenges of living in the Andes and create structures that remain intact and continue to play a powerful part in modern society.

Sloped wall in Qoricancha (Photo Credit: María Emilia Andrade)

Works Cited

Andrade, M. (2017). City of Cusco Terraces [Camera Photograph]. Self-Published.

Andrade, M. (2017). City Sign [Camera Photograph]. Self-Published.

Andrade, M. (2017). Cusco Street [Camera Photograph]. Self-Published.

Andrade, M. (2017). Qoricancha [Camera Photograph]. Self-Published.

Boundless (2016). Boundless Art History. Retrieved from


Cartwright, M. (2014, March 13). Inca Architecture. Retrieved January 17, 2017, from

History of Cusco. (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2017, from

K. M., A. C., G. S., & J.P. (n.d.). CUSCO TRAVEL INFORMATION. Retrieved February 23,

2017, from

Morillo, M. (2017). Ruins of Machu Pichu [Camera Photograph]. Self-Published.

Marillo, M. (2017). Ollantaytambo terraces[Camera Photograph]. Self-Published.

Plaza de Armas del Cuzco. (n.d.). Retrieved February 23, 2017, from


Wright, K., & J.B. (2010, January 1). A Marvel of Inca Engineering. Retrieved Februray 20,

2017, from

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.