Puerto Rico is best known for Pina coladas and Salsa music but it is also home to beautiful examples of Spanish Colonial and modern Caribbean architecture.
One of the often overlooked examples of native Puerto Rican architecture and design are floor tiles. As you travel throughout the island, be sure to look down! Many of the tiles in the public and historic buildings are native Puerto Rican designs or Spanish Colonial.
Today, the fact that Puerto Rico manufactured these tiles and in many cases, created the designs has been lost to history. But there are still many examples to be found around the island, so as you travel around, look down! Take a picture! And please send it to us for our collection!
A Short History
These tiles are hydraulic or encaustic tiles, and are known in Puerto Rico as Losa Criolla (creole tiles), among other names. They became all the rage in the mid 1800’s and spread rapidly throughout Europe and out to the colonies in America, Africa and Asia. Basically, hydraulic tiles are molds with cement, pigments and water that are compressed in a hydraulic press. There is no kiln and it is a cheap method to create beautiful, brightly colored tiles that are very strong.
By the 1920’s, there were at least five local companies that were manufacturing these native tiles with more to come up until the 1940’s. The switch from agrarian to industrial society created demand in construction, driving ever-increasing sales. Beginning in the 1960’s, these brightly colored native tiles waned in popularity as the terrazzo gained due to the speed with which they oculd be manufactured.
For many years, I have been paying attention to the tiles on the floor and one of the best places I have found them is at the Parador Villa Parguera in La Parguera, Lajas, on the southwest coast. They thought I was crazy because as I am checking in I start taking a million pictures of the floor… Turns out that before it was a small hotel, it was a school. And the school received a donation of leftover tiles from the manufacturers, so there was an assortment of over 50 designs! Gold!
If you are interested in learning more about this and the tile designs native to Puerto Rico, this book contains stunning examples of tile designs from Puerto Rico. The enclosed CD contains the images for use as a graphic resource or for inspiration
Purchase the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Puerto-Designs-Mario-Arturo-Hernandez/dp/9057681404