The history of Puerto Rico is reflected in its cities. The territory’s architecture has evolved from simple structures made of wood and thatch to monumental modern works. Shaped by both internal and external forces across its varied landscapes, Puerto Rico’s diverse styles represent over 400 years of Spanish rule and over 100 years as an unincorporated territory of the United States. Today, the island’s modern architecture reflects its multicultural background.
The indigenous peoples of Puerto Rico inhabited the island long before Spanish colonists. The Taino people used mahogany and dried palm tree leaves to build, living in yucayeques. In 1493, many new colonists from Spain began creating architecture inspired by their home in Andalusia. Island life changed how colonists built, and in turn, these structures were shaped by the weather and a need for a more secure military presence. Settlements were arranged along traditional grids, with public spaces, government buildings, religious, commercial, and residential structures.
Puerto Rico’s architecture has emerged as a blend of traditional Taino techniques and both European and American influences. From Colonial and Gothic, to Baroque and Modern, these buildings showcase the territory’s history. The following projects looking at living spaces and contemporary homes that have been built in the last ten years. They give a glimpse at Puerto Rico’s past and at a generation of designers who are shaping the island’s future.
El Blok is a boutique hotel located in Esperanza, a quiet town on the south side of the island of Vieques, located 13km off the east coast of Puerto Rico. The hotel is situated on a small commercial lot along Esperanza’s waterfront. The compact form of the hotel houses a program of 23 guest rooms, a restaurant, a roof terrace with Jacuzzi, parking and service areas. Conceptually the hotel is conceived as a block of coral removed from the sea; inspired by the form, density and porosity of the coral reefs located just off shore.
The remodeling and expansion of this existing residence was developed for a family of four members. The site of approximately 1,270 m2 is located on the highest point of the street of a well-known suburban housing development in San Juan. On clear days, part of the city is visible from the second floor on the east side of the house. Our arrival to the project was given under atypical circumstances. The previous architect that was working on the design of the house had passed away and the contractor was fired from the project after the completion of the pool and pool house.
The project is located in a mid-century development of Río Piedras . The neighborhood, typical of upper middle class housing developments of the time, is composed of lots averaging 1,500 m2, with individually designed custom houses. The house sits on a corner parcel, defined by a local main-street on the south-east, and by a cul-de-sac on the north side. The residence, commissioned by a young family with two kids, initially started as a substantial remodeling-addition to a 1950's house. But after the initial rehabilitation concepts proved economically unfeasible, it became a "new-house" project.
A family of long-time Ocean Park residents took on the task of constructing a thirteen(13)room guesthouse, oriented to the family and group traveling market. Located on McLeary Street, the principal artery bordering this coastal / capital sector, the Inn is conveniently located between the tourist zones of El Condado and Isla Verde (with it’s international airport) – where eateries abound and public transportation is close by. It is also privileged with proximity to a superb beach, only a three (3) minute walk thru the San Juan’s premier residential community.
The project involves a second commission from the Guardería Ecológica La Mina. Like the first commission, the structure was in a state of neglect for 20 years, where it was once part of a set of structures devoted to vocational training facilities and then volunteer corps. The building was used as a sports and recreation hall on the first floor and cosmetology salon on the second. The structure is a typical module of pre-designed concrete used by the Department of Education for school expansions since the 1960s, with a second floor in block walls and a wooden roof that was completely collapsed when we arrived at the project.
The Alhambra house is located in an upper-middle class neighborhood composed of single-family residences arranged on a garden-city type urban lay-out . The residence sits on a lot of 950 square meters, and is flanked by similarly sized parcels on both of its sides (east and west); the south side of the property is defined by the street, whereas the north side butts the metropolitan train system. The clients/residents were a young professional couple with two small children. They were both well-traveled and shared a common interest for modern design and architecture. The given program simply called for a house with "a central, open kitchen, a studio-office loft, open living spaces, and a general reorientation towards the patio".
The project is a speculative development and the client is a for-profit corporation. The program was dictated by the needs of the market: four bedrooms, three and a half bathrooms with all the other spaces typical of sub-urban living. The houses exist between a “rural feeling” access road in the fringe of suburbia and a high speed expressway. The site straddles a ridge between two creeks, one of which divides San Juan (the capital city of Puerto Rico) from Guaynabo (a main suburb of the capital city). The contextual duality of the rural-like suburbia vs. the high speed expressway and city frames the project.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 1st, 2019 and updated on June 15th, 2021.