History of the School
In 1993, the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico commissioned an analysis of the existing architectural programs in the country. This initiative arose out of a perceived need to provide competitive educational options in the field. After a two-year assessment period, it became clear that a new school of architecture in Puerto Rico needed to be created. Several arguments supported this early assumption, among them:
- a significant student population growth,
- the unflagging momentum of the construction industry,
- the existing programs’ focus on a four-year pre-professional degree in Environmental Design and its pre-established enrollment capacity in spite of an increase in applicants,
- demographics claiming an expanded academic panorama, and rising costs of architectural studies abroad.
The School was created as a department within the Polytechnic’s already existing administrative mechanism, the Dean of Engineering. After much consideration, it was decided to offer a five-year professional degree as an alternative to the 4 + 2 Master’s Program that already existed on the Island at the University of Puerto Rico (a public institution). Architect Jorge Rigau, FAIA, leading practitioner, historian, author and critic on Caribbean Architecture was appointed to head La Nueva Escuela (The New School), design its curriculum, hire faculty and house the department in a new building on campus. After obtaining State and Regional Accreditation, the School opened in August 1995, with 140 freshmen and a reduced number of upperclassmen transferring from an existing pre-architecture, pre-professional program at the Universidad Interamericana (Interamerican University) in San Germán, southwest of San Juan.
Several faculty members at the Polytechnic, including Jorge Rigau, had taught previously at Interamerican University, as well as the University of Puerto Rico’s 30-year old School of Architecture. High-profile professionals like Jaime Suárez (architect, urban planner, and artist), Beatriz del Cueto (architect and conservationist) and Juan Penabad (architect and researcher), among others, assisted Rigau in the development of a curriculum based on an assessment of educational and professional goals of relevance facing the 21st century. Some of these were:
- the definition and attainment of a better quality of life in rural and urban areas
- economic and ecological self-sufficiency
- an enhanced public perception of professional responsibility
- the need to scale technology to culture
- responsibility for regional leadership
- the integration of imbricated multidisciplinary debates.
The program was founded on the belief that another architecture school in Puerto Rico could greatly enrich professional growth and debate in the country. The Polytechnic University would be an excellent setting for the new program, given the already established professional programs in Engineering and Surveying, all happening within a single institution.
NAAB Candidacy status was awarded to the School in June, 1996. The Polytechnic University’s Board of Trustees established the Deanship of Architecture in August 1997, granting autonomy to the program and appointing Jorge Rigau as Dean. A follow-up NAAB team visit took place in February 1998. After a two-year development period and another NAAB visit in Fall 2000, Initial Accreditation Status was granted for three years. In 2003, six-year Accreditation Status was granted.
Seven years after being established, La Nueva Escuela (The New School) was a fast-growing, far-reaching institution with ample space to grow, expanded course offerings, and an increase in student enrollment. “Design as research” became the standard among faculty and students. Traveling became a way to promote critical distance from Puerto Rico’s long history of cultural self-centeredness. Active involvement with public urban/environmental issues established the school’s reputation as a forum of critical debate. The School hosted regional events of national and international projection; its students won local and international competitions. Lecturers and civic initiatives sponsored by the School were extensively covered and recognized by the media. Faculty and student commitment to research, together with the constant interaction with professionals and intellectuals from different fields, design sensibilities, ideologies and origins, nurtured the program’s adventurous spirit.
In terms of architectural education, our validation of research (at an undergraduate level), as a resource and learning tool, has promoted intellectual curiosity among students, while simultaneously expanding the scope of subject matters, and design themes, beyond the local architectural practices. Our curriculum emphasizes critical thinking as applied to a series of topics, such as architectural preservation and theory, the local tradition of modern architecture, cultural criticism, history, emerging relativity, and a cautious take on sustainability issues beyond trends. Feeling responsible for the students’ professional outlook and possibilities, attention has also been given to the importance of architectural practice, and to promoting an inclusive approach to other fields. Most importantly, the open admissions policy at the Polytechnic addresses a larger demography of students interested in the academic and cultural challenges of studying architecture. For fifteen years, The New School, known today as ARQPOLI School of Design, has focused its civic responsibility on rendering the profession as an accessible goal.
On June 29, 2000, Commencement Day, the Polytechnic University awarded the first honorary doctorate degree ever given to an architect in Puerto Rico. Its recipient was Architect Jesús Amaral, who in 1965 founded the country’s first school of architecture at the University of Puerto Rico. At the event, Architect Amaral gave the diploma to the first graduating class of the Polytechnic’s New School of Architecture – a single student. By 2011, our alumni roster reached 267.
Today, the School’s extended outreach is clear, by nature of the local community’s trust in the Polytechnic as a resource, in the alliances and partnerships with local and international institutions, and the recognition of the School’s technical expertise and leadership in the areas of architectural criticism, urban design and conservation. The diversification granted by visiting critics from the United States, Europe and Latin America, in tandem with the establishment of study abroad programs and two new creative thinking centers (The Center for Housing and Urban Studies and The Digital Media Archive), extend the School’s influence to an global international level.