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.

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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. 

Casa Wiechers-Villaronga in Ponce, Puerto Rico

During the past summer days my wife Claudia and I led a team of students to prepare field notes and measured drawings of this turn-of-the-19th-century masterpiece designed by Alfredo B. Wiechers.

For the 2nd consecutive time- our students have been awarded 1st place at the Charles E. Peterson Prize Measured Drawing Student Competition (2015 & 2014). The competition is co-sponsored annually by the National Park Service, Heritage Documentation Program, The Athenaeum of Philadelphia and the American Institute of Architects. 

For more information about the Prize: http://www.nps.gov/hdp/competitions/Peterson_winners.htm

Here are a few sketches I made while assisting the team of students prepare their field notes and documentation drawings. 

 Floor plan

  Following the 19th century tradition I made a composition simultaneously illustrating both interior and exterior views of the dining room area. 
 
Although I like perspective drawings I prefer these analytical drawings. Even if too personal, (meaning that they are really not intended for others), these drawings are essential tools for helping me understand the spatial configuration (and relations) of given building.  

 For illustrating purposes, I have included this sketch of the main façade I made (and posted) a few years ago.