Library of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico

Above: Island of San Juan. Below: Library within the park.
Nightview of new library entry vestibule and pedestrian bridge to Annex.
1950’s Supreme Court Building (Toro-Ferrer).
View of Muñoz Rivera Park.
Aerial view of the park, showing parking site before intervention.
Above: Longitudinal section, elevation. Below: 3rd level plan.
Above: 2nd level plan. Below: 1st level plan.
View from park (south).
View from avenue/entrance (northwest).
Views: from park & entry vestibule.
View from drop-off area.
Brise-soleil system acts also as tropical storm shutter & security doors.

Primary Author

  • Segundo Cardona, FAIA / SCF Architects

Contributing Authors

  • Luis Yordán / SCF Arquitectos (Project Architect)
  • Carmen Rita Fortuño, AIA / SCF Arquitectos (Partner in charge of Interiors)
  • Alberto Ferrer, AIA / SCF Arquitectos (Partner, in charge of Supreme Court Campus Master Plan)
  • Luis Sierra, AIA / SCF Arquitectos (Partner, in charge of Supreme Court Campus Master Plan)
  • Carlos L. Torres, AIA, LA (Landscape Architect)
  • Enrique Blanes Palmer / EBP Design (Civil)
  • Ing. José Antonio Espinal / José Espinal - Vazquez + Assoc., CSP (Structural)
  • Juan L. Cardet / Juan L. Cardet & Associates (Mechanical)
  • Juan Requena / Requena & Assoc. (Electrical)
  • José Ramírez / F & R Construction (Contractor)

Author

  • José R. Rey Ramírez / Director-Negociado de Servicios Administrativos-Tribunal Supremo de Puerto Rico

Photographers

  • Max Toro Mattei

Objectives

In the original 1956 Supreme Court Building, architecture became a subtle tool to convey an important message describing a new social and political system based on the principles of democracy. Contemporary architecture of the late forties and early fifties from places like Brazil and Mexico were promptly adopted as a symbol of liberal political movements that championed equality and social advancement. The new Library building needed to express these same values and convey new principles such as public engagement and transparency. The design program required a large footprint for parking facilities integrated with the new Library. One of the principal objectives was to organize in a clear manner pedestrian, vehicular and service circulation in the Supreme Court Campus site. This new library building serves also as the main gateway to the Supreme Court Campus. One of the main objectives was the translation of a considerable large program into a visually unobtrusive building; particularly because the program required the new building to be inside the Luis Muñoz Rivera Park.

Context

The original Supreme Court building was designed in 1956 by the architectural firm Toro-Ferrer. Fifty years later, the need to project towards the future leads to the design of the New Supreme Court Library. With much respect to its modern iconographic predecessor, the new library uses simple horizontal forms and a modern language to establish a visual relationship with the existing buildings. The Court Campus is located at the east-end of the Muñoz Rivera Park. This urban park (1934) followed a classical scheme designed by Parsons and Bennett from Chicago, with an east-west axis, clearly recognized in Toro-Ferrer’s scheme for the 1950’s court building. Because of the importance of the symbolic and historical values of the context, the new library was conceived as a passive element that reduces its perceived presence in the site. To achieve this, the building mass was broken down into three distinctive elements: a stone-clad-base with multiple wall layers covering the parking structure, a library space shaded by deep overhangs over the parking base, and a main entrance space that mimics the existing building next to it, in shape and color. The book storage, defined as a stone clad cube, adds to the composition by breaking down the scale of the totality. A berm to the west partially sinks the parking structure and provides a natural entry to both parking decks without the need for structural ramps. The main building mass melts into the landscape by entrenching the parking structure partially into the ground and emphasizing a horizontal thrust with deep shaded areas.

Performance

Program requirements, such as large parking facilities, new security requirements for the campus and particular program requirements for the Library had to be conciliated within the highly sensitive urban park environment. The design embraces environmental values sensitive to the tropical climate. Large overhangs and rotating brises-soleil provide shelter from the sun, frame views to the park, and act as a hurricane shutters. Topography and vegetation served as a means to blend the structure to the site and reduce its sense of importance. A strong horizontal layering with lightly contrasting textures breaks down the building mass and anchors it to the ground. Views both to the park and the ocean were maximized, especially in the reading room. The arrival experience is constantly referenced to the main building by opening and closing views from the Library building to the main Supreme Court Building. Service circulation is carefully managed to bring service close but secluded from the view. More than fifty years have passed since the First Supreme Court Building was inaugurated in 1956. Now there are new issues of security that need to be addressed in a sensitive manner to avoid a sense of seclusion and distance from the general public. Planning the entry sequence for security and limiting unrestricted public access are principles contrary to the sense of openness and transparency the Justice system intended to convey. The existing surface parking was selected as the most appropriate site for the new building. This site had been impacted previously by a ground parking, and building here meant very little disturbance in the existing vegetation. The existing entrance pavilion was demolished and substituted by a roundabout to provide a sense of arrival. The atrium space of the new building acts as security check point and entry space for the entirety of the campus.

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Above: Island of San Juan. Below: Library within the park.