After the downfall of the dictatorship in Cuba during 1959, one day in April Fidel Castro and Che Guevara decided to play golf at a country club in Havana. Fidel decided that the landscape was perfect for a grand art campus. Recruitment of architects for Cuba’s National Schools of Art started immediately.
Unfinished Spaces, a film by Alysa Nahmias and Benjamin Murray (English and Spanish with English subtitles) truly captures the beauty of the landscape and amazing architecture in the documentary of a modern day landmark in ruins, whose designing architects are still living.
Architects of the campus, Selma Díaz, Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garatti, and Roberto Gottardi retell their creative journey.
Fidel asked Diaz to head the design project of the School. She offered Porro the architect position but because it was for five schools, he recruited two Italian architects living in Cuba at the time, Garatti and Gottardi.
“I helped to make revolution but in a very soft way. I never fought, I don’t think I am a man to fight with guns, I am a man with ideas, that’s all,” Porro states.
The School of Dramatic Arts, The school of Ballet, The School of Music, The school of Plastic Arts and The School of Modern Dance were designed within a two months deadline and building began immediately. Even the Unites States embargo, which could have been an obstacle for construction because there were no materials being imported.
Construction was possible by using the islands natural resources of in creating bricks and terra cotta, along with 80 masons trained by an older man who possessed Catalan Vaulting skills.
Filled with pride, delight, and dreams Cuban youths, after a successful revolution, started classes as classrooms were completed, yet the campus was not complete. Students not only serenaded workers with musical drum circles, poetry, and song, they helped with the masonry and construction.
Artists who attended the art schools in the 1960s also share their stories about their comradery, female sexual liberation, and the creative freedom during that time. Alum and artist Fonseca says “Eso no lo había antes de la revolución.” It truly would not have been possible prior to the revolution.
They did not view it as a job and they were a family.
The passions and dreams of the artists and architects dwindled after terrorists and fear spread through Cuba. Then the 1961 Bay of Pigs occurrence along with the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 added economic and political strain on funding the completion of the School. Two additional significant obstacles were that Cuba’s Ministry of Construction embraced The Soviet Union’s technique to pre-manufacture buildings and Che Guevara’s wrote an article titled the Socialism of the Cuban Man where he criticized the concept of the freedoms practiced at the school, so the schools were militarized.
Not only did war and the politics years stop the construction, but time and nature began to devour the campus, and after the fall of the Soviet Union Cuba’s leader approved restoration of the National School of Arts.
“It doesn’t matter if you don’t know about architecture you know that you are in a special place and you can feel that and … you can feel that energy. I think that is what the architects wanted to do and understood,” Theater School alum Felipe Dulzaides sums it up.
The designers’ passions are unimaginable captured and undeniably felt by the audience.