For this week's edition of Section D, Monocle 24's weekly review of design, architecture and craft, the Monocle team take a trip to the near-complete Olympic Village in Rio de Janeiro, plus take a look at the history of the US Embassy in Havanna. The latest edition of The Urbanist explores etiquette and politeness in the metropolis, examining the unspoken rules of conduct that make our cities tick and delve into the psychology of 'urban etiquette'.
For the first time in over a half-century, the United States reopened its official diplomatic embassy in Havana earlier today, shining an international spotlight on Harrison and Abramovitz's modernist shoreline classic. Historically maligned by many Cubans as an embodiment of American arrogance and imperialism, the building has played a pronounced symbolic role in the escalation - and now the easement - of political animosities between the two countries.
Thanks to its privileged position as a gateway to North America and Cuba's unique political history, the architecture of the City of Havana has a rich and layered quality rarely found. In a new book edited by Cathryn Griffith, "Havana Revisited: An Architectural Heritage," this history is explored in detail through 12 essays by renowned architects, historians, scholars, preservationists, and urban planners in both Cuba and the United States and a selection of 350 color images comparing historic postcards with the city of today. The following text is the book's introduction, written by Cuban architect, urban planner and critic Mario Coyula (1935-2014).
Havana’s modest beginnings came in the sixteenth century, as the springboard for Spain’s conquest of America. When the port became the obligatory last American stop for Spanish ships making their return voyages to Europe, its significance grew until Havana had become the most important city in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. From the beginning, it was a settlement oriented toward providing services, especially that of protection. Hence, Havana became home to the most formidable system of defensive fortifications in the colonial Americas.
The United States’ diplomatic presence in Cuba is housed in a severe, early-1950s office building perched on the shoreline over Havana Bay. Walled off from the city and pulled back from the street, the building has the uneasy presence of a haunted castle – shunned and maligned by its neighbors, but subjected to the unending scrutiny of suspicious eyes and intrigued gossip of the locals. With its regimented orthogonalities and the unmistakably foreign imprint of modernist efficiencies, both the embassy's architecture and the optimistic political spirit it embodies seem to belong to another era, a cooperative past no longer conceivable in the wake of a half century of underhanded diplomacy, calumnious propaganda, and failed attempts to restore relations between the embattled countries.
Ricardo Porro, the leading architect behind Cuba’s National Art Schools - one of the largest architectural achievements of the Cuban Revolution - has died of heart failure in Paris at the age of 89. After spending nearly a half a century in exile, Porro lived long enough to see his two arts schools reemerged on the world stage as “crown jewels of modern Cuban architecture.”
The following is an excerpt from Carey Clouse's Farming Cuba: Urban Agriculture from the Ground Up, which explores Cuba's impromptu agricultural development after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the challenges that development poses for modern day architects and urban planners.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Cuba found itself solely responsible for feeding a nation that had grown dependent on imports and trade subsidies. With fuel, fertilizers, and pesticides disappearing overnight, citizens began growing their own organic produce anywhere they could find space, on rooftops, balconies, vacant lots, and even school playgrounds. By 1998 there were more than 8,000 urban farms in Havana producing nearly half of the country's vegetables. What began as a grassroots initiative had, in less than a decade, grown into the largest sustainable agriculture initiative ever undertaken, making Cuba the world leader in urban farming. Featuring a wealth of rarely seen material and intimate portraits of the environment, Farming Cuba details the innovative design strategies and explores the social, political, and environmental factors that helped shape this pioneering urban farming program.
“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.
The critically acclaimed documentary Unfinished Spaces will premiere on PBS today at 10pm (ET). The film reveals the turbulent past of Fidel Castro’s Cuba and tells the story of his utopian dream to construct the Cuban National Arts Schools.
Cuban ballet star Carlos Acosta has selected Norman Foster to redevelop one of Fidel Castro’s unfinished spaces – the School of Ballet on the outskirts of Havana. Acosta studied ballet at the Cuban National Ballet School and has danced with the Royal Ballet since 1998. The stunning, derelict building was never completed during the Cuban revolution, as the design and architects of the Cuban National Art Schools (las Escuelas Nacionales de Arte, or ENA) were deemed irrelevant in the prevailing political climate. However, in March 1999, the three architects – Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garatti and Roberto Gottardi – were called to lay out a budget to preserve the languished schools. These preservation efforts include the School of Ballet, whose cluster of domed volumes, designed in 1961 by Italian Vittorio Garatti, are connected by an organic layering of Catalan vaults that follow a winding path. As reported on bdonline, Norman Foster told the Sunday Times: “Carlos is a great dancer who is inspiring the regeneration of an iconic ruin of early modernism outside Havana.”
Everyday, in the city of London, 30 million meals are served. That’s millions of trucks arriving to millions of stores and restaurants in a complex, tightly scheduled orchestration of production, transportation, and distribution.
We take it for granted that this system will never fail. But what would happen if these trucks were stopped? As unrealistic as it sounds, it’s happened – and not so long ago.
In 1989, over 57% of Cuba’s caloric intake was imported from the Soviet Union. When it collapsed, Cuba became, virtually overnight, solely responsible for feeding its population – including the 2.2 million in the city of Havana.  What happened next is an incredible story of resilience and innovation.
As our world becomes increasingly urbanized, our farms increasingly endangered, and our reliance upon fossil fuels increasingly undesirable, the question of how we will feed billions of future city dwellers is no mere thought experiment – it’s an urgent reality.
The story of Cuba offers us an interesting question: What would our cities look like if we began to place food production/distribution as the primary focus of urban design? And what will it take to make this vision a reality?
More on how Food can shape our cities, after the break…
“Unfinished Spaces” is a critically acclaimed documentary about the ambitious design and construction of the Escuelas Nacionales de Arte, or National Art School in Havana, Cuba in 1961, which was to feature schools of ballet, modern dance, music, drama and plastic arts. The university was the brain child of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara who wanted to establish a prestigious, cutting-edge arts university for the people of Cuba. The project was abandoned due to cut funding and ideological differences, but the three architects responsible for the design, Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garatti and Roberto Gottardi, were still excited when in March 1999 they were called to lay out a budget to preserve the languished schools.
Read on for more on the history of the Escuelas Nacionales de Arte and images of the campus.
In reaction to US President-elect Barack Obama’s Sunday’s declaration on CBS ’60 minutes’ on 16.11.2008 (his first sit-down interview since winning the November 4 presidential election) where he has confirmed his intention to close Guantanamo’s Detention Center, zerOgroup made this proposal, called ‘I LOVE GITMO’ to upgrade the American enclave in Cuba into a mass tourism destination.
The ‘I LOVE GITMO’ proposal is one of the works that have been elaborated at the ‘Con Embargo Sin Embargo’ workshop organized by Supersudaca, supported by the Prins Claus Fund, and held at the IaaC Barcelona (Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalunya) in September 2008.