Hacia la Búsqueda de una Identidad Arquitectónica propia en un Territorio Colonial: Una mirada a la reacción criolla representada a través del ornamento

Estos edificios [Los Archivos] deben prolongar la vida de esta documentación, construidos de tal manera que, su contenido no sea borrado de nuestra historia”. – Osvaldo Santiago Rodríguez, 2020.

Designer: Osvaldo Santiago Rodríguez
Thesis Committee Director (s): Arch. José Coleman-Davis Pagán & Arch. Omayra Rivera Crespo
Thesis Committee Consultant (s): Arch. Inés Penabad Peña
Puerta de Tierra, San Juan,  Puerto  Rico
Completion Date: May 2020
TOS [er]: Melissa Ramos López
Posted: May 2022

About In search of an Architectural Identity in a Colonial Territory:

Osvaldo Santiago understands that the relationship between identity and ornamentation is a fundamental tool in defining a group of people. In his quest to understand the production of an architectural identity, he poses two key concerns:

  • Is it possible to generate an identity that can represent Puerto Rico’s architecture through ornamentation given the island’s Spanish and French Revival colonial background?
  • How did these hegemonies historically influence the island’s-built environment?

The research leads to a proposal of a new General Archive for Puerto Rico. The existing archive is in a building that has severe infrastructure problems that has caused damage to some of the archival collections. This is due, in part, to the fact that the masonry building was not designed for this particular use when it was constructed in 1877 under the Spanish regime. The unique content of an archive resonates with the relation between identity, culture, and ornament that this investigation explores.


[Keywords: Architecture, Ornament, Identity, Collective, Puerta de Tierra, Archive ]


Project description:

The General Archive stores the documentation of our national identity and this new site establishes a presence highly visible as one enters the emblematic city of Old San Juan. The proposal involves 3 main buildings: the archive’s collection, the auditorium, and the library. The three volumes define a dynamic and green public space that functions as a link between the existing Presidents Promenade and the Puerta de Tierra Promenade. The proposed archive revitalizes the existing site by replacing an unwelcoming asphalted realm with green spaces, linking and establishing a dialogue between the context and the proposed buildings.



  • Produce and promote the conservation of an architectural identity that represents Puerto Rico.
  • Create an adequate structure for the storage of the Island’s historical archives of the built environment and more.
  • Offer an iconic and recognizable intervention as one of San Juan’s milestones; achieved through the texture of its ornaments.



For the research phase, Osvaldo Santiago selected 100 examples of what is recognized as typical island ornamentation including hydraulic tiles, ornamental blocks, and ironwork. The ornaments analysis focuses on positive and negative patterns that are synthesized into five (5) ceramic pieces that can be combined to create new compositions.


Design Strategies:

Once the research was completed, given that the existing archive is in Puerta de Tierra, the proposal was developed in a nearby locationSeeking to provide greater continuity in the urban/physical context, Santiago proposes the reorganization of the adjacent structures by:

  • Responding to the central courtyard of the School of Tropical Medicine building to highlight the importance of its main entrances.
  • Converting the Dr. José Celso Barbosa school into one specialized in History and Science of Communications that would complement the new General Archive.
  • Removing and relocating an existing parking lot to a nearby empty lot.
  • Conserving the on-site structure of the Coast Guard Museum and adapting it to a new use (Coffee shop, restaurant & souvenir store).


Project Program: 

  • Public Program
    • Reception |  Exhibition Galley Auditorium
    • Library |  Restaurant & Coffee Shop |  Store
  • Investigation Area Program
    • Administration  |  Reference Rooms  |  Archives
    • Deposits  |  Workshops


TOS [er] Reaction: 

A relevant issue that Santiago approaches is the need for the relocation of the existing General Archive of Puerto Rico. The poor and rapidly deteriorating conditions of the existing building threatens the collection with a steady loss of important historical documents. Therefore, the island stands to lose a fundamental part of its historySantiago’s investigation intertwines ornamentation & identity with our General Archive, this is mostly visible with its terracotta texture which accentuates the archive within its context and therefore the importance of OUR history. The main takeaway from this investigation, personally, was the variety of design strategies that Santiago integrated in the development of his design. From ornament studies and historical investigation to identity representation and urban design, Santiago creates a safe home for our historical documents and a new green space for the people in San Juan.