No. 566 . 08 August 2012 
ArchitectureWeek

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The restaurant pavilion at the Hotel La Concha by Toro Ferrer, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1958. Photo: Jon Rendell

Tropicalismo

by Danielle Del Sol

As Le Corbusier was casting in concrete and Philip Johnson was building glass houses, ambitious architects in Puerto Rico were also experimenting with the tenets of International and Modernist styles.

The architectural elements that worked well with the island's intensely hot, humid and hurricane-prone climate — functional floor plans that accentuated cross-ventilation, for example, and accents like brise-soleils, which allowed enough natural light in to illuminate interiors without overheating them — were culled by a group of select architects and compiled into a form of modernism unique to their region.

The result — a Caribbean-style of Modernism that would come to be known as Tropicalismo — was more than architecture for the sake of introducing the avant-garde. Tropicalismo, says John B. Hertz, former dean of the University of Puerto Rico's School of Architecture, was meant to be "a vehicle to a world of progress."

ArchWeek Image
Period postcard image of the Hotel La Concha.

Shedding the colonial styles of the island's past, this new form of architecture could help validate Puerto Rico as an entity unto itself while also transforming the sultry climate into part of a modern, marketable narrative that would attract rich tourists and business ventures to an island championing all things good and new.

State officials of the period, looking to grow and embrace the new, decided that tourism was a "clean" way to grow economic development, and launched a hotel-building campaign that would allow state-owned buildings to be leased to hospitality magnates.

For the new Hotel Caribe Hilton, to be the first Hilton hotel project outside of the continental United States, Puerto Rican officials invited two Miami-based architecture firms and three San Juan firms to submit designs.

Officials rejected the traditional Spanish Colonial designs submitted by the stateside firms in favor of the starkly modern design submitted by small, local firm Toro Ferrer y Torregrosa.   >>>

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