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Ocean Park House San Juan, Puerto Rico..Toro Ferrer Arquitectos

Architect-client relationships often come to resemble marriages in their amount of contact time, their arguments and compromises, and the fact that the two parties are trying to raise offspring—a building in this case. But the architect who designs a house can find himself in a special case, having to form a relationship with a couple that's already involved in a real marriage.

"Like in many residential projects, the architect becomes like a 3rd wheel in a relationship," says José Toro, an architect in San Juan, Puerto Rico. His firm, Toro Ferrer Arquitectos, designed a house for a couple and their children, and while some of the going may have been rocky, this particular relationship worked out for the best.

"At times it got a little bit tense, because I was in the middle, but I got along well with both of them," Toro says.

The house was designed for a long, narrow site in a semi-suburban neighborhood in San Juan. "It's not quite an urban lot, not quite a suburban lot," Toro says. "You can walk to certain commercial areas from there, and the beach is only a block away." The neighborhood was developed originally in the 1940s and 1950s, but had fallen on hard times until recently, when young families like Toro's clients began to move in.

Toro refuses to pigeonhole the style of this house, preferring instead to describe its influences: "It's a contemporary house," he says, "certainly influenced by the 50s architecture of the neighborhood, but reoriented to the needs of the year 2000."

The narrow configuration of the lot and its proximity to the water influenced the house's plan. Irregular walls and fences on the edges of the lot had to be patched, and the rooms were arranged to minimize the effect of these "blinders," as Toro calls them, and maximize the light and breeze coming into the house

"The breezes usually come from the east," Toro says, "so that's where we put the living room and the kitchen, the places where people are most of the day." Service areas—bathrooms and stairwells—occupy the west wall. Bedrooms are in an enclosed volume on the second floor, but the lower level remains very much open to the elements.

"We really tried on that first level to blur the line between inside and out," Toro says. "The interior floor inside is terrazzo. The outside floor is exposed aggregate, but it's the same mix. So in some way, the outdoors—the garden—becomes another room."



The clients moved in almost exactly a year ago, just before Christmas, 2001, and by all accounts are enjoying the house. And, according to Toro, the family has just hired an interior decorator, a friend of his who he trusts to take good care of the house. That must come as a relief to an architect who has to accept a fourth design partner into an already complex relationship.

Gross square footage: 7,000, Total constuction cost: $900,000

Kevin Lerner. Photo Ivonne Maria Marcial

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