"El Centro de Estudiantes de la universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto Rio Piedras" was conceived as part of a new master plan for the university's primary campus of Rio Piedras in 1948. The university extended an invitation to the architect Henry Klumb, who at the time was under the employment of the office of Frank Lloyd Wright, to develop this plan as well as the design of several of its components including the Student Center. The project for this complex was executed 10 years after its conception and took two years to complete (1958 to 1960). This project is of significant importance to the architectural history of the island of Puerto Rico as well as the Caribbean for two primary reasons. First of all, this building, upon its completion, established a precedent for modern university building types on the island as well as for universities throughout the Caribbean. This is achieved by the introduction of a new building language and conception of a contemporary space that invoked a transparency toward the idea of universal learning through the implementation of an open flowing plan. In doing so the building also established a precedent on the island of the effective use of concepts of modern architecture of the 1940s such as an open free flow plan with little compartmentalization of spaces in the context of a tropical environment. Secondly, this is the commission that first brought the island the work of Henry Klumb. This architect's body of work redefined modern architecture on the island by providing exquisite examples of low-cost implementation of modern architectural language into the tropical setting.
The original program calls for a cafeteria, soda fountain cafe, gallery of student work, rooms for music and reading, recreational space for billiards, ping pong, a bowling alley, dark rooms, postal office, check room, barbershop, lockers, showers, reunion hall, administrative offices, a dance hall, and areas for rest. Klumb brought one of the first examples of a Corbusian roof garden and added it to the language of tropical modernism. The impact of this program had an incredible impact on the campus life. Even more fascinating is how the program literally shifted the primary area of congregation. Once the Spanish Revival "Cuadrangulo" to the "Centro de Estudiantes," but also in doing so shifts the primary axis of the campus as a re-organizing anchor for student life.
Cement construction, open plan, Bering Structure of cylindrical columns on a 24' module system.
100 acre campus set in developing urban condition.
Jaime Benitez, the Chancellor of the University, described his work as, "the University of the Open Book". Klumb’s words for this were slightly different: he spoke of his architecture as one that was of deep social consequence, not only "providing for the human being," but "for the human being." Klumb designed his buildings around an organizational strategy of "open democratic spaces accessible to all."
This design best expresses the fundamentals of Klumb's design strategies. He focuses primarily on creating free movement between interior spaces, a continuous gradient between exterior and interior, a subtle integration to the topography of the site using habitually horizontal lines and minimum structure (predominately signature cylindrical columns). This building established a new axis for the campus, breaking away from the previous suggestions of the 1924 and 1939 Beaux Arts Plan. This student center establishes a new precedent in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean for a university typology.
The Student Center for the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus, is one of the most important examples of tropical modernism in the Caribbean.
Enrique Vivoni Farage and Mary Frances Gallart ,Tropical Modernity: architecture and the creative force of the 1950s
la arquitectura de la universidad de Puerto Rico: Recinto de Rio Piedras, Maria Luisa Moreno
Klumb: una Arquitectura de importancia social_ Gwendon Wright, Enrique Vivoni Farage
Silvia Arango , Klumb: una Arquitectura de importancia social