El Portal Visitors Center is nested within El Yunque National Forest (EYNF). Originally designed by the local firm SCF, the structure faced significant damage after the onslaught of hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.
The USDA Forest Service (USDAFS) identified damages and challenges of site and building functions. The recent intervention consisted of the design-build revitalization of the existing facilities. Key elements of the original design, including a portion of the existing roof, center court, and water feature, were modified to accommodate current code compliance and sustainability standards, but above all, community-driven programs and uses.
Given the aftermath of the hurricanes, the USDAFS decided to revisit previous developed concepts and integrate best practices and lessons learned through a series of design charettes. The charrette brought together USDAFS Architectural and Engineering staff along with staff from EYNF, International Institute of Tropical Forestry, Fish and Wildlife Service, and local community partners like Girls Scouts of Caribe, PR Tourism Company, Corredor Ecológico del Noreste, Luquillo LTER, CCPP, Eastern National, Fundación Alma de Bahía, Centro para la Conservación del Paisaje, and Fundación Amigos del Yunque.
As a result of that charette, a new vision was developed for the facility. Instead of exhibit spaces and government offices, the renovated El Portal is now a comprehensive community hub with a collaborative space for community organizations and flexible event spaces. Inclusivity, resilience, and sustainability were the main drivers for the new program, guided by government-NGO partnerships to ensure local economic growth and social equity and participation.
The Visitor’s Center serves as an educational tool to understand the unique environment, history, and culture of the place. Interpretive exhibits throughout the facility invite visitors to explore, enjoy, and learn, while local art installations, and cultural activities programmed by partnering organizations provide an immersive experience for locals and tourists alike.