Among the dignitaries in attendance at the dedication ceremony of the Museo de Arte de Ponce (MAP) in Puerto Rico was Roberto Sánchez Vilella. In his capacity as Governor of the island, he gave a tongue-in-cheek speech directed at his political opponent and founder of the museum, Luis A. Ferré:
I feel that I have contributed, in my small way, to the building of this museum. Had I not defeated Luis Ferré in the election, he would not have had sufficient leisure time to devote to this cultural project.
It is certainly true that this new building, designed by Edward Durell Stone and inaugurated in 1965, would not have existed without Ferré’s singular vision and extraordinary generosity. Stone’s design for the museum earned him an American Institute of Architects (AIA) Honor Award and, together with Ferré’s unwavering commitment to the success of the institution, produced what is now one of the most recognized and respected cultural landmarks in the Caribbean.
Prior to pursuing a political career, Ferré had amassed a small fortune through industrial enterprises. He spent much of his wealth on philanthropic ventures, of which the MAP was the most significant; as well as founding the museum, Ferré was initially its sole patron. The museum’s original collection comprised seventy-one artworks, all of which had been purchased by Ferré himself. At the time of the museum’s founding, his native city of Ponce was poorly connected to the capital city of San Juan, and thus did not benefit from international tourism. Ferré’s decision to open a major public art museum in his hometown was partly driven by a desire to provide a boost to tourism outside the capital and, ultimately, create a more even distribution of wealth across Puerto Rico.
The museum was initially located in an old colonial house but the compact size of these premises was quickly outstripped by the scale of Ferré’s ambitious plans. His expansion of the collection, which included artworks donated by other charitable organizations, demanded a larger exhibition space. The American Modernist architect Edward Durell Stone, whose previous work included the original Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) building in New York City, was commissioned to design a dedicated building for the collection. Ferré’s vision for the museum extended to its architecture, and he laid out certain basic requirements for the design – namely that it should “express, with simple and sedate lines, the noble spirit of Ponce and, while being modern, should also be serenely classical.”
By this stage of his career, Stone’s architectural style had evolved through several incarnations. His early designs of the 1930s were in the International Style, which he had studied while spending two years travelling in Europe. Subsequently, having found the style to be overly austere, his work began to display the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright, whom Stone visited at Taliesin East in the 1940s. By the late 1950s, Stone had developed a more independent architectural style, carving a distinctive architectural niche with his design for the U.S. Embassy Building in New Delhi. Nevertheless, certain references to his earlier stylistic influences remain in his later work, as evidenced by his design for the MAP.
Stone designed a rectangular building of two stories to house the museum. The first floor contains a lobby and seven rectilinear galleries, while the second floor houses seven hexagonal galleries encircled by a terrace. The two floors are linked by an elegant double staircase located in the lobby, which acts as an architectural centerpiece for the building. Additionally, two gardens to the north and east of the building were designed by Stone’s son, Edward Durell Stone Jr. (a third garden was added in 1991). The heavy roof, which forms deep eaves over the balcony, and the low horizontal composition of the building appear to reference Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie houses. The choice of materials, however, is closer to the International Style; the marble aggregate with which the building is clad recalls the formal purity of European Modernism.
The use of natural lighting is characteristic of Stone’s work, and he became adept at using textured surfaces to fragment sunlight as it fell on and into his buildings. At the MAP, a geometric pattern of recessed triangles makes up the hung ceiling, which is punctured by skylights in the center of each upper-story gallery. The double staircase aside, these skylights are perhaps the building’s most visually arresting architectural features. Hexagonal in shape, the skylights diffuse the harsh Caribbean sun to softly light the interior spaces and artworks. The sunlight even reaches the lower floor, as it streams down the double staircase and the circular light-wells installed in two of the upper galleries. Further natural lighting is provided by narrow windows at each corner of the upper galleries, ensuring the rooms are evenly lit.
The various components of the museum are unified by Stone’s harmonious design. The hexagonal skylights, for instance, echo the hexagonal plan of the galleries themselves. The tessellated pattern of the ceiling is mirrored on the floor of the upper galleries, where the triangles are delineated in bronze. Elsewhere, the molding pattern found on the cornice of the roof is repeated on the openings of the stairwell and lightwells. Both the floor and ceiling patterns continue from the galleries to the outdoor terrace, creating a sense of spatial continuity which blurs the boundary between interior and exterior. The corner windows of the galleries were originally operable, allowing a tropical breeze to flow around the galleries and drawing the surrounding environment further into the building.
Not only did Stone’s design respond to the local climate, it also paid homage to local vernacular architecture, differentiating this project from the architect’s work in America. While San Juan was dominated by Spanish Revival architecture as a result of its colonial history, in Ponce a unique style of architecture had developed, known as Ponce Creole. Borrowing and blending design elements from multiple sources, Ponce Creole is characterized by the use of Neoclassical columns, Art Deco detailing, and the long balconies of French Creole – the style’s namesake. These features can all be found at the MAP, where the monumental balcony stretches the length of the building and a row of slender columns support the overhanging roof. Symmetrical Art Deco patterns, meanwhile, are formed by the exterior grills of the upper gallery windows and by the cornice moldings.
With regard to Ferré’s goal of attracting international tourists to Ponce, the MAP has been a resounding success; in 2011 the museum welcomed over seventy thousand visitors, of which almost nine thousand were tourists from overseas. Due to the growing popularity of the museum, in 2010 a large-scale extension was added and Stone’s original building, which had weathered over the years, was carefully restored. The ever-expanding collection of the museum now comprises 4,500 works, with Pre-Raphaelite, Renaissance and Spanish Golden Age paintings presented alongside the work of Puerto Rican artists.
The diversity of the museum’s collection is reflected in the character of its architecture; though Stone’s design shows international influences, it remains rooted in the visual culture and heritage of its locality. By referencing traditional Ponceñan architecture and incorporating the Caribbean climate into the building, Stone created a design specific to its context and unique within his body of work.
Photography of this project has been shared by Mary Ann Sullivan's Digital Imaging Project (Bluffton University), which contains a growing archive of more than 24,000 images of sculpture and architecture.
 Ash, Agnes. “New Art Museum Attracts Tourists to Ponce”. New York Times, Jan 23, 1966, p. 358
 “Edificio Edward Durell Stone”. Museo de Arte de Ponce. Translation author’s own. Accessed 12 July, 2016. [access]
 James, Elizabeth A. “Arkansas Listings in the National Register of Historic Places: Edward Durrell Stone Buildings”. The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, 66:1, 2007. p.61
 Ibid. James. p.63
 “Informe Annual 2011-2012”. Museo de Arte de Ponce. Accessed 12 July, 2016. [access]