EARLY HEAD START CIALES
LOCATION: San Juan, Puerto Rico
PROJECT AREA: 8,500 SF (New Building)
13,000 SF (Existing Office Building)
PROJECT YEAR: 2021
Two distinct programs make up this project: a preschool and an existing building with administrative offices for Urban Strategies Inc., an entity that runs several Head Start programs in Puerto Rico and the US. The preschool brief called for an 8,500 SF building to accommodate 48 children. It required six classrooms, each with an open restroom for toddlers, an open-air playground, a multi-use interactive space, a kitchen, a laundry room, administrative offices, a teachers’ lounge, breastfeeding room, restrooms, and support areas. Executive offices, a counseling center, conference spaces, lounge and storage occupy an existing 13,000 SF building. Sited on a promontory overlooking the Manatí river valley and overshadowed by a tall cliff in the karst zone of Puerto Rico north of the town of Ciales on PR route 149, a former funeral home of little architectural value is being converted into offices, while the adjacent parking lot is the site for a new pre-=school.
Given the challenging site conditions we quickly realized that the new preschool had to be an emblematic building responsive to the almost 360-degree views, with the strength to overshadow the unfortunate existing building. A panoptic disc-like structure in exposed concrete is divided into twelve equal spaces with a central playground that provides a safe place for toddlers and allows caretakers and teachers to easily see and supervise all angles of the school. The classrooms, each with a private restroom for children and a small patio, occupy six slices of the “pie”, while the entryway, multi-function space, offices, and service areas take up the remaining segments. We stripped all superficial decorative motifs from the existing building to intensify its condition of “background building” allowing the preschool to become the protagonist. The preschool building is level with the upper floor of the existing structure, carefully centered on a lateral axis of the former funeral home, stepping back to create an entry plaza that serves both structures. An exposed concrete portico frames the existing building’s entryway and integrates a stair to the parking areas below. New horizontal window openings on three sides of the office building provide dramatic views of the surrounding cliffs and valley.