On December 8, 2008, exactly 49 years after its opening, La Concha Hotel, located on the beach of the renowned San Juan tourist district of El Condado, reopened its doors after going through an extensive renovation. The date is confirmation that modern architectural icons can be brought to our time to serve present needs and markets. The project presented herein is the remodeling and renovation of the existing structures of La Concha Hotel. This was the first phase of a project that also included the expansion of the hotel with additional parking and a new hotel suites tower.
Our objectives for the renovation of La Concha were not only to restore its former iconic status in the skyline of El Condado, but to satisfy today’s hospitality requirements. First, we defined the original elements of the hotel that merited preservation. Among them, we highlighted the reconstruction of the partially-demolished multi-vaulted structure along Ashford Avenue to house retail and pool cabañas, the spiral staircase at the main entrance, the ballroom vaulted structure, and the signature concrete shell structure at the beach (“La Concha”).
Second, we analyzed the operator’s needs and requirements to envision how they could be accommodated within the structure. To our delight, the major hotel operation spaces could be located on the same areas that they used to be when the hotel originally opened: the main lobby, ballroom, restaurants, back of the house support spaces, and vertical circulation.
Third, we identified conditions that did not meet the new program and required special intervention: primarily the redesign and reconstruction of the pool deck. Originally a floor level higher than the lobby, the pool was isolated and had no direct relation to any other of the hotel’s main venues. The lobby, in turn, at the same level of arrival, was an enclosed space with no exceptional or particularly memorable views. The new pool deck now flows as an extension of the lobby, opening to the beach through wider apertures under the guestrooms’ tower. Throughout the pool deck, a new grid system angled in relation to the original structure was devised to highlight and differentiate the new design from the original.
Another condition revaluated during the design process was the extension of the guestrooms to the outer building line on the North façade. The original room’s balconies were too small for guests to lounge and their pre-cast concrete guardrails blocked and diverted the guests’ views of the ocean. The new glazed enclosure opens the guest rooms to the ocean views while providing larger interior areas.
The use of modern construction technologies allowed the recreation of original details using current, more lasting, materials. For example, the original pre-cast concrete brise-soleil on the South façade was re-created using aluminum but following the original design. Wood louvers on the guestrooms’ levels open corridors were re-constructed also with the use of aluminum. Modern and up to code mechanical equipment and systems permitted the use of the original main mechanical room under the concrete “Concha” or “shell”, a beachfront facility.
The project’s interventions in La Concha Hotel took great care not to affect its iconic image, but at the same time created a certain feeling of familiarity and tropical ease that flows throughout its spaces. La Concha is today one of the most successful hotels in San Juan, and its renovation is a principal component of El Condado district revitalization efforts.