How architects and designers are rebuilding Puerto Rico


Here is a very interesting article on Puerto Rico’s painstaking process of reconstruction by Diana Budds. She comments, “From rethinking resiliency to strengthening infrastructure and building codes, there’s considerable work to be done.” [I highly recommend reading the full article via Curbed.]

Maria Gabriela Flores, an architect based in San Juan, was home when Hurricane Maria pummeled Puerto Rico with 155-mile-per-hour winds and, in some areas, 20 inches of torrential rain. She was fortunate. Her home, an older structure in the Miramar area, was built from reinforced concrete and survived with no major damage. But just three miles away in Caño Martin Pena—a dense, low-lying area adjacent to the Caño Martin Pena canal and filled with informal construction—the effects were far worse. Winds ripped roofing—often nothing more than galvanized metal sheets—off 1,200 houses.

“We had just had another hurricane a few days before, Irma, and we thought, ‘Oh it’s just hurricane season,’” Flores tells Curbed. “No one imagined the intensity or the gravity of the situation that was coming our way.”

Soon after the storm passed, Flores received an urgent call from a local architecture guild asking volunteers to help triage damage and put tarps over the roofless homes, an essential first step before permanent reconstruction. Then in January, Flores began working with Project Enlace—a local advocacy group for people living in Caño Martin Pena—to install stronger roofs.

Since September of last year, architects and designers like Flores have been reconstructing and rethinking Puerto Rico’s built environment. These efforts include long-range resiliency planning, implementing hardier and faster construction techniques, installing renewable energy systems throughout the island, creating new housing types, launching new businesses, and working more closely with policy makers.

“As an architect it’s an exciting time to be here, but this can’t be taken lightly,” Flores says. “What we do now is going to affect generations to come. We have to take advantage of this moment and consider more environmentally-friendly perspectives on building. It’s full of possibilities, but there’s also a considerable amount of work to be done.”

Project Enlace identified 682 damaged roofs in need of construction. So far, they’ve only been able to build 76. Today, a full calendar year after Maria struck, blue tarps are all that separates many of Caño Martin Pena’s residents from the elements. And hurricane season is once again here. [. . .]

Project Enlace is still constructing roofs and has experienced delays related to lack of materials, lack of skilled labor, and lack of funding. Project Enlace didn’t wait for FEMA funding to arrive and tapped private donations for its relief work. But the project has had to prioritize rebuilding the most damaged roofs, leaving others unfixed due to lack of time and budget. To help overcome these problems, the organization is now training community members on how to build stronger, more resilient roofs and has opened its own materials warehouse.

Housing has been the focus of most roof reconstruction, but commercial buildings also experienced storm damage. A challenge for warehouses and large commercial buildings was weatherproofing. While the roof structure survived, cladding didn’t, and water seeped into the buildings, destroying goods and allowing mold and fungus to flourish. [. . .]

Please see full article at

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