"My life has been a balancing act between Art and Design. Intuitive yet rational, I sometimes don't know if I'm one or another, or maybe I’m just both."
Javier Olmeda Raya is an award-winning furniture designer. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, he received a BFA degree from the Escuela de Artes Plásticas de Puerto Rico in 2006. A year later he went to Barcelona to pursue a master degree in Architecture from the Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IaaC), where he learned CAD software and digital fabrication techniques.
After returning to his homeland, Javier started to land custom furniture commissions, where he mastered the knowledge of furniture design and fabrication. This lead him to set up a workshop with former colleagues Oscar Ramos and Maria Carrión. Together, they founded the Laboratorio de Artes Binarios, where they designed, built, and installed the famous wooden ceiling of Il Perugino Restaurant.
A few months later, Javi and Oscar founded Constructo. Envisioned as a full-scale workshop, it became one of Puerto Rico's top-notch design-build studios. In 2014, Olmeda won a prestigious A' Design Award for his Dendrone Table. In 2015, Oscar left the company. Since then, Javier has taken over the studio's design and fabrication teams. In the past three years Constructo has successfully consolidated its position as a major design reference in Puerto Rico.
If you want to read more, keep scrolling. Here’s a more detailed account of my journey. Caution! Spoilers ahead…
ACADEMIC FORMATION (2000-2008)
Before co-founding LAB and later on Constructo, Javier Olmeda and Oscar Ramos met in college, while studying Architecture at the Universidad Politécnica de Puerto Rico in the early 2000’s. Javier continued his academic career at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas in Old San Juan until 2006, when he obtained a BFA specialized in Printmaking. He spent a year free-lancing, collaborating in several independent graphic design and video projects, and made his first solo show, The Invisible Landscape.
He continued his graduate studies in Barcelona’s Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IaaC) during 2007-2008, where he obtained an MA after completing their Digital Tectonics program under Marta Malé-Alemañy and Vicente Guayart. This was Javier’s first approach to digital tools, and where he was exposed to cutting-edge thinking, complex systems theory, and the emerging digital design and fabrication tools applied to architecture.
Upon returning to his homeland, Javier started to land a job at various workshops to put in practice his recently-gained knowledge, but found out none. Realizing that most workshops were more commercial signage-oriented, he landed at fellow Architect Bryan Torres Arana’s studio, TASK, in late 2008. There, he was in charge of rendering all the digital content produced by the architects, which included former schoolmates Torres Arana, Francisco J. Casablanca, Ricardo Cabezudo-Arzón and Oscar Ramos, who was in charge of the studio’s workshop.
At that time, they were creating design works at the crossroads between Architecture and Industrial Design practices. Their innovative studio space was turned into a venue to host one of the first-ever Product Design Exhibitions in Puerto Rico: La de alante es la que alumbra, curated by Celina Nogueras in 2009. This designer lamps exhibition showcased some of the established as well as up-coming designers in the island.
Laboratorio de Artes Binarios (LAB) 2010-2012
Javier and Oscar started landing custom furniture projects, the first one being The Ribbon Desk in 2010. But TASK’s principal also wanted to establish a coffee shop within his studio, which later became known as Tostado, a famous artisanal coffee shop and bakery still operating to this day. Unfortunately, or rather fortunately, that move made Javier and Oscar look to another place where they could continue their furniture-making projects.
They partnered with another former schoolmate, Maria Carrión, which was completing her Capstone Design courses and together they formed Laboratorio de Artes Binarios. They moved to another area in Santurce known as Parada 18 (literally the18th Stop, as the city’s neighborhoods still owe some of their names to the former light rail stops between Viejo San Juan and Rio Piedras, the two major districts of the city in the early 20th Century).
They moved into an abandoned building and turned it into a 9,000 square feet creative laboratory, where they experimented with digital fabrication processes with a 3-axis CNC Milling Machine and digital software such as Rhinoceros, Grasshopper, and Paneling Tools. In 2011 they landed their first major project: a commission to re-design and build the wooden ceiling for a fine-dining Italian Restaurant. Located at the heart of Puerto Rico’s financial district, Il Nuovo Perugino Restaurante and Enoteca stands as one of the top restaurants in the Caribbean. Its wooden ceiling, sometimes associated with a whale’s interior body, is a masterpiece of digital design and fabrication.
Along with their practice, they were actively involved in hosting several art and design-related events and exhibitions. Among them were 16 Barras by Street Artist David Sepúlveda aka RIMX, with whom they inaugurated the Sala Vectorial, and The Dialectic City, conceived and curated by Carla Acevedo-Yates, which featured works from renown local and international artists.
Shortly after finishing the restaurant ceiling, Javier and Oscar decided to split from María to form a new company, Constructo. They moved in to another abandoned local just two blocks south of LAB and made it their new headquarters. This time, they envisioned a company beyond the digital fabrication narrative and established a full-scale design-build studio, with all the equipment and machinery of a traditional wood shop as well as CNC milling technology. Javier was the Design Director and Oscar was Construction Director.
They partnered with entrepreneur and Creative Industries advocate Ricardo Burgos to set up a project-based company with high-quality design and superb building techniques at its core. They expanded their catalogue to a wide range of products, from small-scale objects and kitchenware, to medium-sized tables, chairs, desks, shelving systems, and room divisions, to corporate design projects such as the POS (point of sale) booths for Liberty (an internet service provider), specially commissioned desks for Capstone Design Students of Universidad Politécnica de Puerto Rico’s School of Architecture (ArqPoli), and the conference table for the Board of Directors of the Banco Popular de Puerto Rico.
The year 2013 was paramount in Constructo’s quest for establishing the studio as one of the top design-build firms on the island. Some of their signature pieces were done during that year, such as the Coffee Bean and The Walk bench. At that time, there was an industrial design boom around the island and Constructo was spearheading it, in part because they were able to take control over their production. The Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, through its Fine Arts Program, developed a series of Art and Design markets called FAD (Feria de Arte y Diseño) that were instrumental in consolidating the designers’ community.
These efforts paved the way for Design in Puerto Rico, an initiative created by Carlos Bobonis, a fellow industrial designer, with the goal of portraying Puerto Rican Design as a powerful creative force beyond its territorial limits. They participated in Wanted Design 2013, a carefully-curated satellite exhibition held during New York Design Week. Later that year, Constructo participated in Boom, Puerto Rico’s first International Design fair, held in the southern city of Ponce. Constructo’s booth was one of the most sought-after and the fair was a success. Local designers connected with other industry-related key-players from material and or related-services suppliers, and received relevant press media coverage.
In 2014, Javier was awarded an Iron Award by the A‘ Design Awards and Competition, an international consortium that recognizes the best talents around the world in virtually all design categories. Javier’s Dendrone table was selected and awarded in the furniture category for its innovative form and correct use of materials. In August, an exhibition was held at the Design Museum in Como, Italy, with all the awarded designers.
Despite all the work that was done in those initial years –over 40 completed projects– Oscar and Javier decided to split in early 2015. Oscar left the company to pursue his architectural career and Javier became the sole proprietor of Constructo, taking over as principal designer and fabricator. Production slowed down intentionally in order to re-think the studio as a financially sustainable business and to consolidate its position as Puerto Rico’s leading furniture design firm.
That same year, Javier was selected by JWT Puerto Rico, one of the island’s top advertising firms, to collaborate on a “perfect gift” campaign they were building for Jack Daniel’s in Latin America. He was selected along with 4 other craftsmen from Colombia, Argentina, Chile, and Peru to design and build a limited edition of a turntable console, using their brand’s oak-wood barrels where the whiskey is stored as the principal material. The result was a such a successful blend of technique and artistry, that he was selected again in 2016 to re-make another limited edition for the brand’s campaign, this time for their Latino market in the USA.
In 2016, Javier was selected by the Board of Directors of Banco Popular to design and build a new conference table for their meeting room. Javier envisioned a round table with a pentagonal scheme, dividing it into 5 sections, each with three seats. He also designed it to have 5 different materials: wood, aluminum, PVC, solid surface, and glass. He also designed two additional tables to accommodate up to ten people in case of having more crowded meetings. Construction was stalled during the year because the Board decided to revamp the meeting room, re-designed by Juan Penabad Architects. After everything was decided, construction started in early 2017 and was completed by June.
A few months after completing this project, two consecutive, powerful hurricanes, Irma and María, struck the island with wind gusts of up to 200 miles per hour. In the wake of this aftermath, Javier withstood stoically for three months until power was finally restored in the workshop. During this time he got involved with several initiatives to help in the island’s monumental rebuilding efforts.
While on a trip to Ingenio, a town in Toa Baja, with Fundación Buena Vibra, he received a special commission to design and build what would be ACG’s (the PR Convention Center’s administrator) corporate gift to their national and international customers. He came up with the idea of making a faceted wooden planter, with all of its allegorical power and idealized it as a metaphor of a general feeling of arising the country just as the phoenix emerged from the ashes. He made 100 of these planters out of reclaimed wood which was torn down by the hurricanes.
This simple project made him realize that he could apply the same production logistics with other furniture pieces, so he applied for Pre 18, a program devised by Parallel 18 to jumpstart Puerto Rican Startups in 2018. Javier came up with the idea of creating Diseño Isleño, as a separate business aimed at selecting pieces from his collection that were in a prototype phase and take them to a product stage, optimizing their production and integrating sales and marketing components.
On June 21, 2018 Diseño Isleño launched its e-store and first collection, revisiting Constructo’s most famous furniture pieces, and making limited editions of each of them. Now they’re accesible through the webpage diseñoisleño