Héctor Ralat

Héctor Ralat, president of the AIA-PR.

Héctor Ralat, the new president of the American Institute of Architects - Puerto Rico Chapter (AIA-PR), affirmed that the various disasters and emergencies that have afflicted the island in recent years has prompted local architects and developers to rethink effective and resilient design.

Ralat —an associate at the San Juan-based firm Marvel Architects with over two decades of experience in the field— explained that natural disasters like Hurricane Maria and seismic events, as well as the current COVID-19 pandemic, have paved the way for emerging trends, such as passive design.

“The strategies of passive design are tied to our tropical scenario, where you aim to bring natural elements to the interior space so that you can give the user the opportunity to enjoy the exterior without necessarily being exposed to weather factors,” he told THE WEEKLY JOURNAL.

For architects, this can translate to creating designs that optimize weather conditions or natural resources, such as wind management, natural lighting and shadows.

“It has a positive effect on the user’s health and wellbeing. In the project’s conceptualization, when you consider energy or air conditioning systems, it has a tangible effect because as you ventilate a space in a non-mechanical way, this slashes costs and you rely less on air conditioning or electric illumination,” he said.

In the context of the pandemic, passive design strategies amass more importance because, as with tropical architecture, open-spaced planning can help curtail the risk of getting infected with this primarily airborne disease compared to closed spaces with central air conditioning, for example.

Moreover, the fact that homes have become offices for many and that company offices cannot seat as many employees in one area have amplified the need for functional design. The pandemic also “forced us to analyze every single aspect in a constructed place,” Ralat said.

“Now the focus is making sure that surfaces are easier to clean, the air conditioning system equipment is easy to maintain, and they have the components that have filters and the ability to maintain the most suitable and hygienic environment,” he added.

“This understanding allows us to focus on our regular roles in this historic moment where the country is still undergoing recovery [from the natural disasters]. We must apply our knowledge and our resources more effectively, and we must use the reconstruction funds and every tool within our reach for the wellbeing of our society,” he underscored.

Plans for New Leadership

Ralat wants to shed light on these issues and make a collective call for functional design strategies by bolstering the chapter’s membership. He reported that the collective has sustained growth in recent years; by 2018, there were 265 members, and now the group has over 300 members.

“What is your goal as the new president of the AIA-PR?” THE WEEKLY JOURNAL asked.

“Continue strengthening the AIA’s mission and vision. We are an organization that exists at a national level across the United States and this chapter in Puerto Rico. Our main goal is to be the voice… to promote the development and design with the best standards in the practice, and at the same time, that the knowledge of the value that architectural professionals have can be brought closer. That is the main purpose and what I always keep my focus on,” Ralat affirmed.

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