Between Two Seas: Architecture and Urbanism in Puerto Rico

This lecture is an introduction to architecture and urbanism in a “Spanish colonial space called Puerto Rico”. We will look at cultural landscapes defined by four hundred years of European colonialism. The lecture’s title is a nod to the key roles that the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean sea have wielded on Puerto Rican transcontinental relationships. Metaphorically they seem to define a play in two acts. We will consider Puerto Rico’s architecture examining a series of layered landscapes representative of geopolitical, socio-cultural and economic developments. Organized in two sections , the first provides an overview of Spanish early urban colonial practices in the Caribbean which served as the planning “template” for the founding of new cities throughout the Spanish American empire from the 16th century onwards. We should remember that by the time of San Juan’s “foundation” in 1521, Tenochtitlan , the capital of the Aztec empire had capitulated to a Spanish-led military coalition of indigenous kingdoms. Urban planning practices perfected during the conquest and settlement of the Caribbean would serve as the basis for establishment of Spanish colonial enclaves and cities throughout the Americas. The lecture focuses on Puerto Rico’s two main urban centers: first, San Juan , as the capital of Puerto Rico , was an Atlantic city that for several centuries remained isolated and disengaged from the rest of the island. Ponce , on the south coast was Caribbean city whose prosperity was fostered by a growing and prosperous middle class, many were migrants from Europe and the Americas.

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