Power to Puerto Rico: Jonathan Marvel

Architect Jonathan Marvel delivers the 2018 Franzen Lecture on Architecture and the Environment, with a prologue by planner Deepak Lamba-Nieves.

September 17, 2018
7:00 p.m.

RPPR | Martín Peña Channel, San Juan, PR, 2017. Credit: Monica Felix

The Franzen Lecture was established by The Architectural League in 2006 in honor of longtime League trustee and distinguished architect Ulrich Franzen, in recognition of his enthusiastic support for League programming on environmental issues.

Hurricane Maria, which made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, caused devastating damage across the island. At least 1,000 deaths resulted from the storm (a number which almost certainly will rise as more accurate data becomes available). Power failed in a total blackout; it was only fully, and seemingly precariously, restored in mid-August 2018, a full eleven months later. Over the past year Puerto Ricans have dealt with shortages of all kinds, including water, materials—and appropriate levels of post-disaster aid.

Immediately after Hurricane Maria hit, Cristina Roig-Morris, Jonathan Marvel, and Walter Meyer joined together to form Resilient Power Puerto Rico (RPPR), in an effort to address Puerto Rico’s complete loss of power by bringing distributed solar generating capacity to the island. Their mission is ambitious: “We strive for more than just power, we aim to bring energy resilience to every corner of Puerto Rico. In advance of large-scale efforts, we can help Puerto Rico now . . . while also seeding the effort to create more resilient and sustainable communities in regions increasingly affected by the more extreme weather events of a changing climate.”

RPPR’s innovative approach focuses on installing solar generating capacity on the roofs of community centers in 78 municipalities, to provide power to “help satisfy basic needs and provide essential infrastructure to coordinate aid to the community, share devices and tools, support communications, filter water, store medicines, and allow residents to gather in an illuminated and ventilated space at any time of the day and night.” To date RPPR has completed seven installations, with more underway. Future plans include working with municipal governments to provide power to critical local facilities, and eventually working to devise approaches to create resilient, sustainable power generation for individual households. The initiative also builds skills, creates jobs, and encourages entrepreneurship.

Architect Jonathan Marvel will discuss the ongoing work of Resilient Power Puerto Rico in the 2018 Franzen Lecture on Architecture and Environment. Jonathan Marvel is principal of Marvel Architects, with offices in New York and San Juan.

Planner and economic development expert Deepak Lamba-Nieves of the Center for a New Economy, based in San Juan, will provide an overview of current conditions, challenges, and opportunities for development in Puerto Rico as a prologue to Marvel’s lecture.


The Franzen Lecture on Architecture and the Environment is co-hosted by the School of Constructed Environments at Parsons School of Design and is made possible by support from the Franzen Lecture Fund of The Architectural League, established with contributions from the Riggio Foundation, Juliana Terian Gilbert, and Elise Jaffe + Jeffrey Brown.