Termitopia – Las Marías, Puerto Rico - Atlas Obscura

Termitopia

Las Marías, Puerto Rico

An artist’s underground sanctuary, 40 years in the making. 

18
31

Many humans can be merciless when it comes to insects: squash an ant, kill a cockroach, squeal for someone else to take care of that spider. But we have more in common with the creepy crawlies than meets the eye, particularly when it comes to ants and termites: the labyrinthine burrows and towers they call home could be compared to human skyscrapers. For some humans, though, that comparison is not enough. That’s why there’s a human-sized complex of carved termite tunnels atop a mountain in the jungles of Puerto Rico.

Part of the Casa Múcaro art collective, Termitopia is what happens when undaunted creative types forge ahead with a vision, untroubled by the classic ills of populated areas, with the space and freedom to make their own world. In terms of interior design, the structure sits somewhere between the structures of Antonio Gaudí and the ancient underground metropolis of Cappadocia. 

Termitopia is the brainchild of Brian Birdsall, an “artist refugee” from Los Angeles who has spent the last 40 years in the Puerto Rican forest, building the free-form structure. Birdsall built his house using discarded fishnet and a cement he invented himself. Unlike typical human construction, which sees thousands of tons of waste to the landfill in the process, Termitopia is built on the simple, termitic principle that construction is achieved through reusable materials. In this case, that means a human-sized rabbit warren of corridors and chambers slice and dice the subterranea of a mountain near Las Marias.

Birdsall is not all alone in the work. His frequent collaborators, Pablo Verona and Daniel Polnau, are puppeteers and similar free-thinkers in the Puerto Rico art scene, pushing towards a more sustainable form of artwork. The three artists use the “most abundant material out there: trash,” to create a new world in the country’s western jungle.

In Termitopia, you can become dizzy at the amount of human effort it must’ve taken to carve the tunnels and fill the space with sustainably-sourced artwork. From musical PVC piping to looney-toon face sculptures, Termitopia is a world away from what you’ve ever known.

At the apex of the structure, a roof deck allows visitors to gaze across the Puerto Rican jungle below. The entire complex is spellbinding, and is enough for you to forget San Juan, or at least not want to go back anytime soon.

Know Before You Go

Termitopia is about a 2 hour drive from San Juan. Though the structure is mostly enclosed, there are stairs and some exposure to the elements, so it would be better to wear tennis shoes than, say, heels.