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March 9, 2010
by Murrye Bernard Assoc. AIA LEED AP

Event: The Making of Modern New York: Puerto Rican Architects and Their Contributions to New York
Location: Hunter College, 02.25.10
Speakers: Ruperto Arvelo, AIA — Owner, ARVELO Architecture + Design; Frank X. Moya, LEED AP — Principal, Matthews Moya Architects; Agustin Ayuso, LEED AP — Founder, Ayuso Architecture
Moderator: Warren James — Principal, Warren A. James Architects + Planners
Organizers: Center for Puerto Rican Studies/Hunter

PR-38 Wilson Avenue Brooklyn NY Photo Scott Larsen

38 Wilson Avenue Condominium, Brooklyn, NY.

Scott Larsen, courtesy Ayuso Architecture

New York City is home to the largest Puerto Rican population outside of Puerto Rico itself. Currently, there are more than 15 Puerto Rican-led firms based in NYC. For the fourth in a series of presentations by the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, three Puerto Rican architects discussed their practices and projects, and what defines Puerto Rican architectural style.

Born in NJ, Ruperto Arvelo, AIA, principal of Arvelo Architecture + Design, moved with his parents to their native Puerto Rico at the age of 10. He returned to the U.S. to pursue his MArch from Syracuse University and later moved to NYC to work for a variety of firms before starting his own practice. Arvelo’s design aesthetic reflects both cultures, combining colors and textures from P.R. with his U.S.-learned work process. Completed projects include Morgan Stanley offices in NJ, Deutsche Bank Max Blue lobbies in both NYC and São Paulo, Brazil, and an apartment complex in Puerto Rico.

Like Arvelo, Agustin Ayuso, LEED AP, was born in the U.S. but raised in P.R. He chose to practice in the U.S. in part because he was frustrated with the limited material palette on the island. His firm has completed a variety of residential designs in NYC, from affordable housing to high-end residential projects. Condos at 38 Wilson in Bushwick, Brooklyn, feature an exterior clad in context-inspired corrugated aluminum. 44 Berry Street in Wiliamsburg involves the conversion of a historic seltzer factory to modern apartments.

Frank Moya, LEED AP, a painter, designer, and urban planner from San Juan, started his own practice in Trenton after attending Princeton University. The local Puerto Rican community was extremely supportive of his practice. Now in NYC, Matthews Moya Architects specializes in designs for the arts and education, and has completed a master plan for the Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart in NJ. Moya discussed his firm’s renovations for the Dalton School, a tight, urban building in Manhattan, including a common space with a freeform, wavy ceiling and a performing arts area located in the basement. A design for the Affirmation Arts foundations explores the contradiction between nature and technology: English ivy grows over a gridded structure reminiscent of the street grid.

While the speakers’ practices are thriving, moderator Warren James, founder of Warren A. James Architects + Planners, noted that P.R. architects typically work in the private sector but attain less public work. In fact, no Puerto Rican architects were among the finalists chosen for the design of a new FBI building in San Juan. However, James believes that young Puerto Rican firms can shape NYC by retrofitting existing buildings before graduating to new building designs and urban planning projects.

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