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  7. AD Classics: The National Art Schools of Cuba / Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garatti, Roberto Gottardi

AD Classics: The National Art Schools of Cuba / Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garatti, Roberto Gottardi

AD Classics: The National Art Schools of Cuba / Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garatti, Roberto Gottardi
AD Classics: The National Art Schools of Cuba / Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garatti, Roberto Gottardi, School of Ballet by Vittorio Garatti . Image © Adrián Guerra Rey via places.designobserver.com
School of Ballet by Vittorio Garatti . Image © Adrián Guerra Rey via places.designobserver.com

“Cuba will count as having the most beautiful academy of arts in the world.” - Fidel Castro (1961)

The Cuban National Schools of Arts, originally imagined by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in 1961, are perhaps the largest architectural achievements of the Cuban Revolution. The innovative design of the schools, which aimed to bring cultural literacy to the nation, encapsulated the radical, utopian vision of the Revolution. Unfortunately, the nation’s idealistic enthusiasm lasted for a fleeting moment in time and the Schools quickly fell out of favor; they were left to decay before even being completed. Today, following nearly four decades of neglect, the architects have returned to try and bring these derelict schools to back to their intended glory.

School of Ballet by Vittorio Garatti . Image © John Loomis: Revolution of Forms Site plan. Image © John Loomis: Revolution of Forms School of Modern Dance by Ricardo PorroSchool of Modern Dance by Ricardo Porro. Image © Adrián MALLOL i MORETTI School of Plastic Arts by Ricardo Porro. Image © Norma Barbacci/World Monuments Fund +64

The National Schools of Art were built on the grounds of a famed country club in Havana, thus transforming an emblem of wealth and capital into a tuition-free, educational institute. Castro commissioned Cuban architect Ricardo Porro, a Latin American modernist, who was then joined by two Italian architects, Vittorio Garatti and Roberto Gottardi; the three were given a mere two months to devise a plan for the Schools.

Castro and Guevara playing golf on the soon to become grounds of the National School of Arts. Image © Alberto Korda
Castro and Guevara playing golf on the soon to become grounds of the National School of Arts. Image © Alberto Korda

The architects were guided by three major principles: first, to integrate the schools into the varied, wild character of the site’s landscape; second, to use locally-produced bricks and terracotta tiles, which, following the US embargo on Cuba, were cheaper than imported materials such as steel and cement; and, thirdly, to use the Catalan Vault as the dominant architectural element, as its unique spatial formation would stand in bold contradiction to the geometrical, “capitalistic” architecture of the International Style.

Site plan. Image © John Loomis: Revolution of Forms
Site plan. Image © John Loomis: Revolution of Forms

A total of five schools were constructed: Modern Dance, Plastic Arts, Dramatic Arts, Music, and Ballet. All shared a similar approach to material and structure; however, each presented a different interpretation of the site and reflected its specific program. Garatti’s School of Music was a 330-meter serpentine structure, which followed the contour of the river, and was complemented by the Catalan Vaulted spaces and two vast concert and practice halls. Another design of Garatti’s was the School of Ballet, which consisted of a cluster of terracotta-covered, domed pavilions, between which wound intertwining paths that encouraged chance encounters within the complex.

School of Ballet by Vittorio Garatti . Image © John Loomis: Revolution of Forms
School of Ballet by Vittorio Garatti . Image © John Loomis: Revolution of Forms

Porro’s School of Dance presents a dynamic composition of non-rectilinear streets and courtyards that sprout from a central entry plaza, covered by fragmented glass sheets that are symbolic of the dramatic shatter of the previous regime. Porro took a different approach with the design of the School of Plastic Arts, which was inspired by the nation’s Cuban-African heritage and assumes an archetypical village structure made up of a series of oval-shaped pavilions of various sizes, connected with curved, shaded colonnades.

School of Modern Dance by Ricardo PorroSchool of Modern Dance by Ricardo Porro. Image © Adrián MALLOL i MORETTI
School of Modern Dance by Ricardo PorroSchool of Modern Dance by Ricardo Porro. Image © Adrián MALLOL i MORETTI

The school of Dramatic Arts, the only school designed by Roberto Gottard, contains a dominant, central amphitheatre. Cellular, inward-facing classrooms create a unique, intimate environment; in contrast, the exterior, punctured only by small, unshaded alley-like paths, gives the school a fortress-like appearance.

School of Plastic Arts by Ricardo Porro. Image © Adrián MALLOL i MORETTI
School of Plastic Arts by Ricardo Porro. Image © Adrián MALLOL i MORETTI

The enthusiasm that accompanied the schools' inception began to deteriorate with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. The schools seemed out of scale with the Revolution: an extravagant, unnecessary use of resources. Furthermore, Cuba’s new ally, the communist Soviet Union, preferred anonymously pragmatic, functional architecture, which stood in striking contrast to the organically-inspired, craft-oriented, site-specific designs of Porro, Gottard and Garatti. The three architects were accused of promoting ideals of individual expression, branded as “bourgeois,” cultural elitists, and compelled to leave the country.

School of Modern Dance by Ricardo Porro. Image © Adrián MALLOL i MORETTI
School of Modern Dance by Ricardo Porro. Image © Adrián MALLOL i MORETTI

In July 1965, and despite the schools’ various stages of completion, construction came to a complete halt. In the years that followed, the schools became a haven for squatters and vandalizers; cattle and wild jungle vegetation soon took over the site. In addition, by the 1970s, people began to adapt the site, constructing prefabricated concrete dormitories as well as roads and paths, which answered pragmatic needs but disrupted the original design.

School of Ballet by Vittorio Garatti . Image © Adrián MALLOL i MORETTI
School of Ballet by Vittorio Garatti . Image © Adrián MALLOL i MORETTI

Changes began to unfold in 1999, when the American architect and historian John Loomis published a book titled Revolution of Forms, which brought the story of Cuba’s forgotten schools into international awareness. That same year in Cuba, José Villa, the chair of the National Council of the National Union of Cuban Writers and Artists, declared the Schools the most important architectural work of the Cuban Revolution.

School of Modern Dance by Ricardo Porro. Image © Wikimedia Commons
School of Modern Dance by Ricardo Porro. Image © Wikimedia Commons

At last, Castro’s personal attention was piqued and he declared that the time had come to restore the beloved project of his youth. The completion of the schools became a national mission, led by the Minister of Culture himself. Porro and Garatti were invited back to Havana, where they joined Gottard for a historical meeting in which they discussed the challenge of restoring their derelict masterpieces. As part of the plan,the world renowned architect Norman Foster was invited to redesign the school of Ballet; however, as of now, the Cuban government has paused the restoration due to the global financial crisis.

School of Modern Dance by Ricardo Porro. Image © Adrián MALLOL i MORETTI
School of Modern Dance by Ricardo Porro. Image © Adrián MALLOL i MORETTI

Mario Coyula, the architect in charge of preservation in Havana, aptly stated of the project: “In most cases, architecture must adapt itself to human need, but in cases of exceptional works of architecture, human need should adapt itself to architecture.”

School of Modern Dance by Ricardo Porro. Image © Adrián MALLOL i MORETTI
School of Modern Dance by Ricardo Porro. Image © Adrián MALLOL i MORETTI

Check out the trailer to the incredible documentary Unfinished Spaces, directed by Alysa Nahmias and Benjamin Murray, which tells the story of the schools and features interviews with the architects.

References: Revolution of Forms, World Monuments Fund, and Wikipedia.

Location to be used only as a reference. It could indicate city/country but not exact address. Cite: Gili Merin. "AD Classics: The National Art Schools of Cuba / Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garatti, Roberto Gottardi" 12 Sep 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed . <http://www.archdaily.com/427268/ad-classics-the-national-art-schools-of-cuba-ricardo-porro-vittorio-garatti-robert-gattardi/>
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7 Comments

daleblome1 · December 08, 2016

No Evan IDEA'S are not wastelands however primitive ,ill conceived or misguided they are the well from which everything else springs . The history of Cuba's cultural contribution to the world of philosophical thought , art , music, dance and science including it's struggle for freedom and justice has had an immense impact on the Latino community in particular and the world in general . I am going out on a limb here as an American who grew up in Alaska in the 1950's where everything was provided by the world around me in abundance without government . Suddenly thrown into civilization and instructed that I was helpless and had to be taught how to think and behave in order to live properly ? Ignited my own incorrigible behavior and internal revolution that paralleled Cuba's fight for independence one that continues within myself and I might add Bernie Sanders supporter's who are struggling against the same Tyranny and Injustice of money and power that Cuba fought against in it's revolution and the people of the United States fought against during our revolution or France during their's or China during their's or Russia during their's or Vietnam during their's . There is only one thing that prevents Humanity from achieving perfection, that my friend is the next best idea that makes everything that exists obsolete and in need of change . Once again in the modern world conventional thinking is insufficient . Let's not act in haste out of emotion and as Hannah Arentd cautioned " loose our ability to think " ? Look at the remnants of the past not as ruins but as living monuments reminding us of Humanity's endless quest for perfection that continues today !

Evan Keal · July 09, 2015

" the largest architectural achievements of the Cuban Revolution" is a wasteland of unfinished buildings??? -

America...beware of the failures of the false idealism of socialism!

Jorgerodz57 · September 14, 2013

Croco dile your point is valid.
However, as architects we analyze everything when it comes designing public buildings crucial to the social fabric of a place, country, city etc...yet when it comes to buildings dreamt by communists its all tosed out the window and its all about the architecture. this building was a fantasy of two men who murdered in cold blood Cubans by the thousands. This is not speculative. History documents the slaughtering quite vividly. I was born and raised in Cuba unlike most of the people commenting g in this blog. What I can assure u is that the vast majority of Cubans currently living on Cuba, my family included, will detest the reopening and realizing the dream of these two horrible men.
When and if it opens, people will be bribed or forced to show up and clap. When in reality they will be forced to be reminded of the "dream" Fidel and Guevara once had for this social experiment.
I guarantee you that at the main entrance of this building would be two photos or bronze statues of these two thugs who single handedly destroyed my country.

Croco Dile · September 17, 2013 07:07 PM

Thank you for the information, Jorge !
Being far away we have another perspective you have.
Too bad Cuba is still ruled by THEM !
I wish your people will be free soon !

Jorgerodz57 · September 12, 2013

With all the struggle and suppression that has always existed on Cuba all impart by the so-called revolution, one would only imagine that if this architectural communist pipe dream was thought up by 2 of the biggest criminals in the world (Castro & Guevara) who together enslaved the Cuban people for over 50 years... You would think that the proper thing to do would be to demolish the ruins and proof of one of the most destructive dictatorships to exist.

Croco Dile · September 13, 2013 11:05 AM

Even if you are correct about the Communist Dictatorship, those buildings are a product og good people with a vision for a better world. I'm talking about the architects and other professionals involved - not about the Criminals in the Cuban government.

John Loomis · September 12, 2013

A disappointing article.
Much recycled information, mostly from Revolution of Forms, Cuba's Forgotten Art Schools, errors of fact especially regarding recent developments, and incorrectly attributed photos.

Mark T Burrell · March 23, 2014 08:24 AM

John Loomis:
As a journalist and a designer, I applaud your accurate point on lack of attribution. "Borrowing" your research and co-opting your content may be the work of younger, unethical writers who don't do their own research. After many trips to Havana in the 90s-2001, I finally went to see the school, after owning your perfect book.
The irony in this, after getting knocked off many times, is how vast the architectural inventory in Havana really is, so many aspects of culture to research further: the Ursulines, Institute de Seguros, Museum of the Bomberos, and the villas shown in Humberto Solas's masterful films, the mansions of Vedado...and then there is Santiago, Trinidad. So many fresh subjects, and so many journalists who can't find them. There's a thin line between plagiarism and lifting content. In the case of uncredited photos, no excuse, especially "on the web." Vultures.

Croco Dile · September 12, 2013

Hopefuly Cuban people will be free and won't be ruled by the communist parasites anymore !

hector · September 12, 2013

is not Robert Gattardi, the correct name is Roberto Gottardi

···

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School of Ballet by Vittorio Garatti . Image © Adrián Guerra Rey via places.designobserver.com

经典建筑:古巴国家艺术馆 / Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garatti, Roberto Gottardi