Puerto Rico Architect Calls for Stronger Buildings After Latest Natural Disaster

January 16, 2020

Two years after Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico, residents were still struggling to rebuild. Then, just days into 2020, earthquakes began to rattle the island, leaving even more damage behind. Now one of the U.S. territory’s top architects is making the case for short-term assistance combined with long-term vision.

“Remember, two years ago, we went through two hurricanes, not one,” said Ricardo Álvarez-Díaz, chairman of the architectural firm Álvarez-Díaz & Villalón and a member of the Construction Council of Puerto Rico. “There is a lot of PTSD, trust me, after everything we’ve been through in the last couple of years.”

In the aftermath of the latest quakes, about $16 billion in federal funds was allocated to help the U.S. territory with disaster relief and prevention, pulled from the $20 billion approved by Congress a year ago to help with hurricane recovery. However, the Trump administration has decided to impose strict restrictions on the money, citing corruption and financial mismanagement.

Álvarez-Díaz said these concerns were largely overblown, but he’s glad the money is on its way.

“We hope that by next week the grant agreement will be signed, and hopefully you’ll see those funds start to trickle in and help with the recovery,” Álvarez-Díaz said.

In the long-term, though, Puerto Rico must invest in better infrastructure and building standards, Álvarez-Díaz told Cheddar.

“A lot of construction was done before 1987, and the codes were not amended to include seismic until 1987,” he said.

Puerto Rico, he added, is in a unique geographic position: It has to consider both horizontal (wind) and vertical (earthquakes) pressures on its structures, meaning durability is key.

Outside of retrofits and reinforcements, Álvarez-Díaz touts his own recent mixed-use development, Renaissance Square in San Juan, as an example of what the future may hold for the territory. The mixed-income development used higher quality materials with an eye toward sustainability.

“It has become a case study for what you can do,” he said.

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