Brutalism. The name of this architectural movement invokes a sense of relentless shock and awe. But really, it’s just a term derived from the French word for “raw” – as in Le Corbusier raw. Combine Brutalism and the bold moniker El Blok and throw it into the Caribbean, and you’ve got a beautiful study in contrasts. Indeed, you have one of the past year’s hottest hotel openings on the petite Puerto Rican island of Vieques.
Featuring just 22 rooms, El Blok is an ode to 1950s Modernism, albeit tropical style. It is both curvy and stark, featuring striking facades and shadow play thanks to intricate, perforated walls. All this imposing curving concrete against a lush tropical mountain backdrop and the shining sea seems to create tension, yet El Blok is a peaceful place, with whimsically done rooms featuring locally sourced décor, bright tiles, colorful fabrics, eye-popping modernist tidbits, and the softest, Zen-like light, filtering through porous façades.
Four stories tall, the LEED-certified boutique accommodation features one single open air space on its second floor, with a restaurant by James Beard-nominated top toque Jose Enrique. Other amenities include an infinity pool, a bio-luminescent Jacuzzi and a bar (see below).
The waterfront boutique hotel was designed by FUSTER + Architects as an homage to coral. Hence you get its curvaceous exterior shape plus the organic-looking, porous panels, which create light and shadow ever in flux. “This project is difficult to define,” said architect Nataniel Fuster in Architectural Digest. “It’s solid yet perforated, enclosed yet open, urban yet rural, and rational yet organic.”
Let’s get back to that idea of brutalism in the tropics for a moment. Co-owner Simon Baeyertz said they “wanted to celebrate Puerto Rico’s post-war Modernist architecture and simultaneously fit into the curved corner property.” Makes sense. This curvilinear, Caribbean-inspired take on Brutalism is an opus we can get behind.