El Portal, El Yunque Visitor’s Center, Rio Grande Puerto Rico Building Development, Caribbean Architecture Images
El Yunque Visitor’s Center in Rio Grande
28 Jan 2022
Architecture and Landscape: Marvel
Location: El Yunque National Forest, Rio Grande, Puerto Rico
El Portal, Rio Grande, Puerto Rico
El Yunque Visitor’s Center El Portal located in the municipality of Río Grande is set to reopen to the public this month, after recently completing a $18.1 million restoration and redesign by multidisciplinary and landscape architecture, urban planning and interior design firm, Marvel and Interlink Construction. Commissioned by the USDA Forest Service, the project is part of the agency’s focus on strengthening the recreation offerings of El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the US National Forest system.
The comprehensive design and construction project was conducted over a period of 2.5-years, beginning in the summer of 2019 and completed in December 2021. El Portal Visitors’ Center had been closed since the devastating passage of Hurricane María in September 2017.
“Our challenge for this project was to envision a refreshed design, that would respect and harmonize with the beautiful natural surroundings of El Yunque, integrate environmental sustainability factors and build upon the previous structure,” stated Jonathan Marvel, principal of Marvel. “El Portal is an integral part of one of Puerto Rico’s biggest tourist attractions and, as such, it is an iconic destination. Playing a role in assuring its longevity and ability to remain accessible to both residents and visitors, all while preserving this fragile natural ecosystem in perpetuity was critical in our decision to take on this project” he added.
The extensive reconstruction included the addition of a new entry plaza and gardens that welcomes visitors to the Center. Moreover, new passive ventilation was integrated at the exhibit, café and multi-use pavilions, accomplished through new roof structures with clerestory windows and new shading structures. A new café area was incorporated along with a commercial and catering kitchen to allow for more diverse uses to the Visitors’ Center. In order to achieve LEED Silver certification for El Portal, Marvel implemented solar-ready infrastructure, water harvesting, and green infrastructure additions, among other strategies.
As part of the project, Marvel also designed the only accessible trail in the entire National Forest which was developed within El Portal’s site. New interpretative exhibits were designed by Split Rock Studios. Several pieces by local artists are also part of the new El Portal center. The reception desk and interior signage at El Portal were custom-designed and built by Puerto Rico Hardwoods with recycled local mahogany boards from the forest.
The firm worked closely with Puerto Rico-based construction company Interlink, the USDA Forest Service, and other stakeholders to develop a project that took into consideration all the necessary requirements for such a unique installation. Through its work on the project, Marvel’s team also helped to develop a vision for what sustainable federal projects can accomplish in the Caribbean.
El Portal Visitor Center is nestled within El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. Forest System. Originally designed by Puerto Rican architectural firm Sierra Cardona & Ferrer, the project had undergone no significant changes since its opening in 1996. Most of El Portal’s elements were beyond their use expectancy when the structure was hit by Hurricanes Irma and María in 2017. After sustaining extensive damage, the USDA Forest Service decided to overhaul El Portal and update its offerings.
The federal agency held a competitive process to award the design-build contract, and Marvel, along with Interlink Construction, was awarded the project. “As a Project Coordinator and Visitor Program Manager it was amazing to collaborate with a team of designers that worked directly with construction in translating the new El Yunque from a government facilitated visitor center to a co-managed visitor and public space while maintaining the function and beauty of a space as special as El Portal de El Yunque”, added David Ilse, Public Service Staff Officer for USDA’s Forest Service.
Marvel’s work, in partnership with Interlink, consisted of redesigning and conducting a complete renovation of the buildings and site. Elements of the original design, including the main hall, the upper courtyard, and the water feature, were modified to give way to a newer design vision, accommodate current needs, and comply with current building and sustainability codes and standards.
“Marvel seeks to promote initiatives and tackle construction projects that favor sustainability and resilience. The renovation of El Portal exemplifies our philosophy, and we are proud to be a part of this historic and significant project for Puerto Rico,” said Edna Echandi Guzmán, AIA, Director at Marvel’s Puerto Rico office.
For almost a decade, Marvel has worked at the intersection of public and private space, creating intentionally timeless design solutions that integrate nature and context.
The recipient of over 125 international industry awards—among them the AIA’s highest honor, the 2019 Presidential Citation for integrating design and community service and WEDG Certification for Public Waterfront Design Excellence—its portfolio spans a range of sectors, including affordable housing, commercial, cultural institutions, schools and higher education, civic and public works, hospitality, high-end residential, recreational projects, workspaces, and parks and gardens. The firm has offices in San Juan, Puerto Rico and New York, NY. For more information, visit: www.marveldesigns.com.
Photos: Marcelo Donadussi
El Yunque Visitor’s Center, Rio Grande, Puerto Rico images / information received 280122
Location: Rio Grande, El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico, Central America
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