The El Yunque Visitor’s Center in Puerto Rico has been renovated and redesigned after damage from Hurricanes Maria and Irma. Now restored, the center will serve as a gateway to Puerto Rico’s natural treasure, El Portal, the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. park system. The center was closed in 2017 and only just reopened after a redesign by Marvel, an architecture, landscape design and urban planning practice with offices in New York and San Juan.

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A metal sign for El Portal de el Yunque.

The renovation cost $18.1 million and added a host of new sustainable features to the center. New features of the El Yunque El Portal Visitor Center include a new entry plaza, gardens, a cafe, exhibition and meeting areas, a kitchen, pavilions and a walking trail.

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Green areas on either side of a walkway leading up to a triangular building.

“Our challenge for this project was to envision a refreshed design, that would respect and harmonize with the beautiful natural surroundings of El Yunque, integrate environmental sustainability factors and build upon the previous structure,” said Jonathan Marvel, principal of Marvel. “El Portal is an integral part of one of Puerto Rico’s biggest tourist attractions and, as such, it is an iconic destination.”

A walkway surrounded by nature.

Passive ventilation was integrated into the exhibit, cafe and pavilion spaces via new roof structures with clerestory windows and new shading structures. To achieve LEED Silver certification for El Portal, Marvel implemented solar-ready infrastructure and water harvesting.

A walkway surrounded by nature.

Marvel also designed the only accessible trail in the entire National Forest, developed within El Portal’s site. Interpretative exhibits were designed by Split Rock Studios. The reception desk and interior signs at El Portal were designed and built by Puerto Rico Hardwoods with recycled local mahogany boards.

A waterfall feature off a buildings roof surrounded by greenery.

Elements of the original design include the main hall, the upper courtyard and a water feature, but these were also modified to fit the new design vision and to meet new building and sustainability standards.

A sign reading "Leaving El Yunque National Forest."

“Marvel seeks to promote initiatives and tackle construction projects that favor sustainability and resilience. The renovation of El Portal exemplifies our philosophy, and we are proud to be a part of this historic and significant project for Puerto Rico,” said Edna Echandi Guzmán, AIA, Director at Marvel’s Puerto Rico office.

+ Marvel Designs

Images via Joe Colon