Farming Cuba: Urban Agriculture from the Ground Up

Courtesy of Russel Fernandez/ Princeton Architectural Press

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 . 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 program.

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

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

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.

Unfinished Spaces premieres today on PBS

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.

In 1961, in the heady first days of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro asked three visionary architects to build the Cuban National Arts Schools on what had been the golf course of a country club. Before construction was completed, the Revolution became Sovietized, and suddenly the project was denounced as bourgeois and counter-revolutionary. These radical, magnificent buildings become a prism through which we see the turbulent, ever-shifting history of Castro’s Cuba and follow the fates of the three architects, now in their 80s, who may get a second chance to revitalize their utopian project.

Although it has been rumored that Cuban ballet star Carlos Acosta has selected Norman Foster to complete the Vittoria Garatti’s School of Ballet, the status of this claim still remains unknown.

Read more about the history of Unfinished Spaces here on ArchDaily.

Foster to redesign Fidel Castro’s School of Ballet

School of Ballet © toml1959

Cuban ballet star Carlos Acosta has selected 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.”

Urban Agriculture Part I: What Cuba Can Teach Us

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. [1] What happened next is an incredible story of resilience and innovation.

As our world becomes increasingly urbanized, our 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 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…

I LOVE GITMO / zerOgroup

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, made this proposal, called ‘I LOVE GITMO’ to upgrade the American enclave in 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.