Contemporary reflections on the role of cities often focus on metropolitan capitals and their relationship with global and economic centers. Although this limitation relegates secondary cities and towns to insignificant universes, many are currently pursuing ways to strengthen their regional economies and embrace global economic challenges. This is the case of the town of Aguadilla and its technological hub, the new Aeronautical and Aerospace Institute of Puerto Rico project. Home to the former United States Military Ramey Air Force Base, Aguadilla is located in the northwestern coast of Puerto Rico. The town was marked by its colonial historical account as the berth of the ships that travel from Europe to Havana and Mexico, and by its modern history as a strategic geographic location during World War II. The closure of the base in 1974, and its transformation into an airport and a ‘tech town’, involved a significant transition from a military ground to a knowledge-based technological realm.
Aguadilla is characterized by its contradictory landscape. On the one hand, its coastal line delineates a natural attraction for national and international tourism. On the other, the boundaries of the former military base, demarcate the man-made limits of collective memory through its permanent structures and controlled space. The apparent contradiction between this interplay- the natural and the familiar versus the man-made and the unfamiliar-poses the problem of spatial distinction between inside and outside: How to transform the interior/exterior relationship of spaces defined by specific functions? How to reconfigure the borderline between them?
The new Aeronautical and Aerospace Institute of Puerto Rico spearheads a nascent commercial aircraft maintenance industry on the island. Planned, designed and built concurrently with a new Lufthansa Technik Aircraft Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) Hangar at what was formerly Ramey Air Force base and is now Borinquen Airport on the north western tip of Puerto Rico, this school will prepare mechanics for employment in fields related to aeronautics and aerospace. The Institute will also provide continuing professional training to those seeking new aircraft certifications and professional development.
The school is composed of a new classroom building, an existing hangar converted to workshops and labs as well as a small engine testing facility. The new classroom building here presented, oriented parallel to the airport’s runway, is a concrete and glass core surrounded by a corridor sheathed in semi-transparent polycarbonate panels that evoke the highly technical nature of the subjects taught in this academic building. Ten centimeters gaps between each panel provide ventilation to the corridors and contain inexpensive weatherproof fluorescent light fixtures oriented inwards. During the day, the building appears as a solid element from the outside, but one is able to see out from the inside through the semi-transparent panels. As night falls, the effect is reversed and the building becomes a translucent beacon at the airport. The severity of the concrete is softened by colorful doorways, which help identify classrooms or offices. These colors also come alive at night, gently livening the design.