Meet Cristina Villalón, Co-Founder of the Largest Architecture and Interior Design Firm in Puerto Rico
It's always fascinating to learn more about the visionaries behind some of our favorite projects. During a recent interview, we had the pleasure to learn more about Cristina Villalón, founder and managing principal of Álvarez-Díaz & Villalón (AD&V), the largest architecture and interior design firm in Puerto Rico.
Led by Villalón and her husband, architect Ricardo Alvarez-Diaz, AD&V is based in San Juan and Miami, AD&V specializes in luxury hotels as well as high-end residences. The firm has received international recognition as one of the most innovative design firms in Latin America, with a portfolio spanning the US, Central America, South America and the Middle East.
In all of its work, AD&V is dedicated to creating Places of Purpose: holistic and sustainable architecture and interior design that enhances people’s experience of the world and improves their lives. Read on to learn more Álvarez-Díaz & Villalón and her background below:
Tell us more about how you got your start.
After I finished my art history degree at Pitzer College in California, Ricardo encouraged me to take a local interior design course. It was so fortuitous, because as soon as I started, I knew it was something I could do for a living.
After graduating from Pratt Institute, I returned to Puerto Rico where I began collaborating with a well-known local interior designer whose work I admired. After about a year, I left to pursue my license and then went on to found Villalón Interiors, Inc. in 2005.
My first project was a referral by a friend for a simple decorating job. That client was also an owner of fitness gyms back home, and he hired me to design some of his businesses. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was working on multiple projects at once.
In 2012, after almost a decade of successful collaborations with Ricardo, we decided to join forces and form Álvarez- Díaz & Villalón® | Architecture & Interior Design.
Tell us more about your firm, Álvarez-Díaz & Villalón.
Our firm is all about culture. It’s something I have worked very hard to cultivate, and we have put together a number of policies to encourage work-life balance. At heart, AD&V is a social company. We constantly give back and provide thought leadership on how to help others, get involved, and leave this world better than we found it.
For example, we have been very active and vocal about the rebuilding efforts of Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria. We also collaborate with Habitat for Humanity of Puerto Rico and have been designing pro-bono for them for years, so when we launched our book Places of Purpose, it seemed natural to donate all proceeds to reconstruction efforts through the organization.
Ricardo and I have distinct points of views on most things, but we complement each other’s strengths very well, and we understood that merging our companies would provide added value to our clients as well as our design process. We approach design holistically. We are deeply committed not only to creating “Places of Purpose,” but also to design our business with purpose, using it as a platform for thought leadership, social responsibility, and inspiration to others. We want to lead by example and leave this planet much better than we found it, through our designs but also by example.
What is the process like for you and your team when you work with clients?
Our process is more integrated than others for working with clients. This is because we have our architecture and design teams communicate from the beginning. The benefit of this is that it helps avoid costly mistakes throughout the process and ensures a seamless, integrated design from the exterior to the interior. Each discipline brings its respective learnings and experiences to the table, which is invaluable to the client. It is very important to us that the interiors department be included in project meetings from the beginning.
As a firm, we work to understand our client’s vision as well as who they are. We want to make sure we capture their essence and wishes in the buildings and spaces we design. We see the whole process as a partnership, a collaboration. We are here to work together with our clients and help them achieve the best possible project, one that adds value to the community, and by extension the world.How would you describe your firms' style?
Our portfolio highlights both traditional and contemporary architecture. My personal design style is more contemporary, rich yet clean. However, I truly believe a designer’s job is to translate the client’s tastes and not impose their own.
Tell us more about your approach to sustainable design.
Sustainability is ingrained into our subconscious and how we think about design. We don’t separate design from sustainability. From the beginning, we are thinking of ways to conserve energy, be more efficient, incorporate natural light, reduce our carbon footprint, use water more efficiently and effectively, and so on. We always try to incorporate as many eco-conscious elements as possible into our designs.
Anything else to add?
It’s been almost two years since Puerto Rico was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. Our lives have been forever altered. We feel an enormous responsibility to rebuild more resilient and affordable housing for our island and its communities. There is an enormous need. We have begun to set a new standard for affordable housing in Puerto Rico, but there is still a lot more work to be done. We will continue to help lead these efforts until the enormous need for affordable and safe housing is met for all Puerto Ricans.