Arecibo: Past with/out Present Plots of architecture, city and memory (Arecibo: Pasado sin Presente Tramas de arquitectura, ciudad y memoria)  

“The breezy streets remain where once I went shopping holding on to my mother’s hand. The shape of its streets, the ornaments on its buildings and the ways of articulating itself still awaken in me the feeling that I am in Arecibo”. – José Vélez
“Quedan al aire fresco las calles donde alguna vez iba a hacer compras de la mano de mi madre. La forma de sus calles, los ornamentos en sus edificios y sus maneras de articularse todavía despiertan en mí la sensación de que estoy
en Arecibo”. -José Vélez



Designer: José R. Vélez Arrocho  
Thesis Director: 
Mayra O. Jiménez Montano 
Arq. María I. Oliver, Lilliana Ramos Collado, Ph.D Arq. Juan C. Penabad
Project Date:
May 2015
TOS[er]: Liz M. Natal López
Posted: December 2020

José starts with personal testimony of his memories of Arecibo; the city of his youth.  He questions how collective memory of a place can help rethink future transformations of the city so that it can be recognized by its citizens. Collective memory is that part of us that recognizes what a place once was. According to Maurice Halbwachs in On Collective Memory, collective memory is a remembrance of the past based on the complexities of the present. José uses collective memory as the basis for his proposal. He wonders how does collective memory, that image that persists in the memory of what has been lived in a city, can help to transform it in the present? The collective memory of a city is expressed through social traditions and how a group of people from a given society remember it. However, the individual sense of each person also comes into play. This means that as a group, similar characteristics can be remembered, but the individualization of memories is influenced by different versions of a shared memory.

Memory consists of two main technologies, the one that satisfies the need for meaning and the other one lies in physical artifacts. Tradition is one of the main technologies of collective memory. According to José, “The message that sustains the structure of collective memory does not manifest itself in empty space, collective memory behaves like a technology whose medium is created by the act of remembrance.” (El mensaje que sostiene la estructura de la memoria colectiva no se manifiesta en el vacío, pues la memoria colectiva se comporta como una tecnología siendo el medio creado para recordar). Memory technologies based on traditions are disjointed due to the differing interpretations of the subjective nature of each individual; the passage of time also alters how things are remembered.  Architecture incites the creation of memories; phenomenological interpretations, alterations, and a translations in spatial terms that change according to the time and generation of the person experiencing the built environment.

José carried out an analysis of memory based on interviews with people from the city of Arecibo. He used the following questions: How do you remember the city of Arecibo? How would you describe the city of Arecibo today? What would you like the city of Arecibo to be like? Common elements were determined according to the memory of the people, the descriptions of the natural landscape and the urban spaces of the historic town center.  The results obtained reflect nostalgia in most of the people when remembering thier  city according to their lived experiences.

In conclusion, the collective memory only lives by the alterations and transformations of its form. Therefore, the collective memory of Arecibo has shifted given the deterioration it has suffered in recent decades; it remains alive by the transformations and memories that recognize the life of the past. In Kevin Lynch’s Phenomenon of Cities (1984), the structural persistence of ideas (culture) is presented, in the relationship between people (social traditions) and the relationship between people and their space. This explains how memory expresses, explains, and admires a landscape that has been transformed.

As José concludes, “How to generate in the present-day city of Arecibo the affinity with the space so that it becomes “place”? If this affinity is felt towards the place only in memory, then can collective memory become a motor for the city? “(¿Cómo generar en el presente de la ciudad de Arecibo la afinidad con el espacio para que devenga “lugar”? Si esta afinidad existe hacia el lugar solo en la memoria, entonces ¿puede la memoria colectiva transformarse en un motor de ciudad?).

The intention of this project is that memories live in the shape of the city. Therefore, the project reflects a past with a gaze to the present and future.  Through urban spatial quality and routes, not only the resurgence of a city is expressed but also the recognition of the city. The urban intention is to create a topographic, programmatic, and typological consolidation that reflects the future of the city by rescuing public spaces and gardens that once existed in the city. In addition, the proposal reorganizes circulations in recognition of urban landmarks  to visually enhance memory . Finally, this project  revives the social life of the urban city by proposing a complex that houses educational spaces, activities and mixed uses for the main square, promoting the creative, social and economic activity of the city.
Project description:

The collective memory of the city of Arecibo is expressed between the ocean and the plaza. The interstitial spacest incite  memories in each person. The site of the project is right at the entrance of the city center overlooking the coast. This site is important due to its location among the spaces of the economic sector of the city, which guarantees a diversity of circulations. José describes his choice of site as, “The location of the project must then recall the past in terms of the present and legitimize, not only in exclusion, but also in the inclusion of what, due to the economic, political, social and urban dislocation has been lost from the natural and urban landscape of the city of Arecibo.”(El emplazamiento del proyecto debe entonces remembrar el pasado en función del presente y legitimar, no sólo en la exclusión, sino en la inclusión de aquello que, por la dislocación económica, política, social y urbana se ha perdido del paisaje natural y urbano de la ciudad de Arecibo). This establishes an urban and architectural proposal that allows the individual to imagine and recognize what the nature and character of the city.  
The urban proposal includes:

• Unify the past with the future through an urban space between the eixisting Plaza of Arecibo and the new Plaza del Atlántico, where gardens and squares help to remember the spaces that once existed.
• Recognize urban landmarks through new circulations that frame the landscape and the coast that have never been truly recognized in the city.
• The building will is a mediator between both squares. It includes a study center, multidisciplinary spaces, classrooms, spaces for activities and commercial uses.

Teh complex has 4 levels, which establishes a dialogue with the surrounding buildings and is only perceived as monumental from the north-side. It is a building that, with its materiality, metal lattices, and a receiving hall, adapts to the city and invites citizens to remember. The open spaces direct attention to the places of memories and experiences of the city, such as the Plaza Mayor, and the ocean.  According to José, “The skin that shows its skeleton get old; it joins the time that the ocean landscape wears away. Victim of the saltpeter, the building also becomes old, it shows itself alive and shows time passing ” (La piel que transparenta su esqueleto, envejece; se une al tiempo que el paisaje del océano desgasta. Víctima del salitre el edificio también se hace añejo, se muestra vivo y muestra su tiempo pasar). Theproposed intervention,  its spaces and materiality take the visitor on a journey to the  future through the memories that thrive in remembrance.  José highlights and frames views that awaken memories in the visitors and incite the creation of new ones. In conclusion, José uses collective memory to transform the future of the city. In addition, collective memory is a fundamental element to remember a place and rescue the city without forgetting its past.