Mapping San Juan

work setting | fourth year

professor |  francisco rodríguez + carlos garcía

note | this project constitutes the research phase for a competition, which you can find here, and there are also a series of related sketches.

My focus in this phase was to deconstruct the San Juan islet to understand its “lines”. Along the way I discovered, or I felt like I discovered, that this historic city is the result of various networks and systems operating from different moments in history, nudging each other and imposing on each other until we get that sort of tense balance that gives us the city we love.

Old San Juan is all about the borders…

Image 01. The first border in play is geographic, the coast. It presents the limits and the opportunities for military settlement  in the islet (fig 1). The littoral traces  the footprint of the rampart (fig 2). Then the rampart is carved out, with dungeons, with guardhouses, with three main access points (or doors) and one main connection to the Island: Puerta de Tierra (Ground Entrance)(fig 3, down). Outside these walls, three subordinate settlements develop: Barrio La Perla to the North, La Puntilla to the South, and institutional and transportation buildings to the South East. The main city develops within the walls (2nd column, 4th row).


Between coastline and wall, green, unconquered space is excluded from the city (3rd column, 1st row). But between city and wall, there is also unconquered space (3rd column, 2nd row). It used to serve as military grounds, but in present day, it holds a strong recreational value. Finally, between lots and within lots, there are interior courtyards, the hidden and precious lungs of the city that oppose to narrow streets, pavements, and masonry laid out by a clear grid plan (3rd column, 3rd and 4th rows).

Then there are the lot divisions within blocks, that I was able to trace from historic city maps. If you pay close attention to the configuration of each block, you can form a theory of how the city came to be in time, which were the first and most important buildings, and which partitions were done last. I illustrated this with dark orange showing the oldest lots per block, as opposed to light orange (4th column, 1st row).

So, as the growing organism which is the city approaches the walls, circulation paths get more and more constricted, curving and thinning between city and ramparts, between ramparts and sea.

Image 02. Overlapping of city layers.


Image 03. Parts that make up the wall.


Image 04. Overlapping of city layers.


Image 05. Evolution of lots within blocks.


Image 06. The city is a growing and shifting organism with a cell-like behavior and a hierarchical array. The islet holds a city, whose membrane is a wall. The city is made up of blocks. These blocks are made up of lots, and the lots themselves have a nucleus courtyard through which each cell may breathe.



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