Plaza de Armas, Viejo San Juan


Transformed several times throughout the years Plaza de Armas today is arguably one of the best public squares in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. The current design -depicted above- is from the 1980’s and belongs to architect, Alberto del Toro (assisted by the dissolved firm Arce y Rigau).

The space was last rehabilitated almost two decades ago. The works dealt with minor repairs to the pavements and sitting areas, but additional trees were added. Fortunately, the new planting followed the existing structure and a second line of trees — of the same species — was paired with the existing. For that reason, the original spatial organization devised by the designers remained unchanged. Some could argue that it was reinforced with the addition.

Plaza de Armas is rectangular in shape, conformed by contiguous buildings along its four sides where two civic structures stand out, the Departamento de Estado o Real Intendencia to the West (right in the top sketch) and the Ayuntamiento or Alcaldía de San Juan to the North (center down in the sketch, also at the perspective below). It is worth noting that the space does not align with any of the afore-mentioned buildings. However, the skillful designer(s) organized the urban elements at their disposition to compensate for the ‘misalignment’.

Therefore, as illustrated, a telephone cabin, a fountain and a “glorieta”, along with the mass of trees — all composed to acknowledge and reinforce — the City Hall’s main axis, perpendicular to the plaza. The mass of trees further recognize the building’s protruding arcades and the towers that flank them. (See sketch below, illustrating this space back in 2002).

The space conformed by the surrounding buildings is rectangular. However, the space’s proportion is less important than the composition of the urban elements inside the paved area of the square. The arrangement is what really organizes the space. The paved area has a proportion of 1:3.5; one square wide by three and a half squares long. The alignment with the Ayuntamiento (as illustrated) is far more hierarchical than the alignment with the Real Intendencia. Nevertheless, two monumental light posts – no others alike are to be found in the square – recognize the Real Intendencia’s longitudinal axis. Thus, proving that neither the longitudinal or transversal axis of the rectangular geometry of the space (without relating to any structure) is as relevant as the axis created by the arrangement of elements drawn by the skillful hand of the designers.

Casa Vives, Ponce, Puerto Rico

A few years ago my wife Claudia Rosa-López and I led a group of students from Polytechnic University in documenting this house. With their set of drawings they earned a Third Place award at Peterson Prize, sponsored by the Historic American Building Survey of National Park Service. Today, the students’ drawings can be accessed at the Library of Congress site through this link: https://www.loc.gov/item/pr1528/

Built about 1860 and designed by French immigrant architect Juan Bertoli Calderoni, Casa Vives in Ponce, Puerto Rico is an outstanding example of a 19th-century Puerto Rican urban residence with commercial spaces on the ground floor and residential spaces above.

national museum of african american history & culture, washington dc 

Designed by David Adjaye (in collaboration with Philip Freelon and Smithgroup) and completed in 2016.

The museum exhibits are divided into two general areas, contemporary culture and the history and vicissitudes of African Americans. The contemporary are displayed at the main volume — a glazed cube protected by the bronze architectural scrim that forms the ’corona’; the main volume visible from the National Mall. In contrast, the historical exhibits are gracefully displayed deep underground — not as if hiding them — but as a powerful remembrance of what — still to this day — lies buried deeply in American History.

The surrounding landscape was designed by Gustafson, Guthrie & Nichol of GGN. The grounds not only becomes a plinth where the museum rests but also creates a solemn space to reflect on what was viewed inside.

A few hours at the Kimbell Museum of Art

Designed in 1967 by architect Louis I. Kahn and finished in 1972 in collaboration with landscape architects Harriet Pattison and George Patton; and structural engineer August Komendant. 

The museum can be accessed through either the lawn and the beautiful mass of yaupon hollies trees out in the entrance courtyard or the rear parking lot (to the East) one story below the main floor. 

Either way you enter, the spatial sequence of the building is magnificently clearly laid out. 

The museum is comprised of 16 parallel halls covered by 20 feet wide by 100 feet long post-tensioned reinforced concrete shells (or vaults). Each thin vault is supported by four reinforced concrete columns which can be visible throughout the building. 

Entrance courtyard with yaupon hollies and opened porches that overlook the water pools. 

Main vestibule looking towards the northern courtyard and main stairs connecting to the Eastern vestibule. 

The interior curving shells have light slots that allows for natural light to enter the galleries. Stainless steel reflectors bounce the natural light difuminating it throughout the curving vaults illuminating the gallery interiors with a soft well-distributed natural light. 

Two tour days in Durham, NC; Vernacular Architectural Forum,VAF 2016

I was recently selected to present a paper on Field Notes during the Vernacular Architectural Forum, which took place the first week of June in Durham, North Carolina. As part of the event – as it is customarily – there are two intense days of touring around preselected areas to experience first hand vernacular examples and communities. 

Here are a few sketches I made during those days. 

West Grove Friends Meeting House (1915) Snow Camp, Alamance County

Old Brick Church [Clapp Church] (1813 original, reconstruction ca. 1840-1946)

Spatial axonometric, floor plan and section of Old Brick Church [Clapp Church] (1813 original, reconstruction ca. 1840-1946)

Mendenhall Store; Jamestown, Guilford County

Mendenhall Barn; Jamestown, Guilford County


O’Briant Grocery Store, 613 Holloway St. 


Lloyd House (1956); 126 Nelson St. 

Residencia Cautiño in Guayama, Puerto Rico

Here are some sketches I made while assisting my wife and her team of students when documenting the Casa Cautiño in Guayama. This was the 1st time our students entered the prestigious Charles E. Peterson Drawing Competition and won 1st Prize for their field notes and measured drawings. (For winning drawings and information see previous post and http://www.nps.gov/hdp/competitions/Peterson_winners.htm)

 Floor plan (partial, a 20th century addition (right) is ommitted from the drawing)  
 Spatial axon illustrating the spatial arrangement.