In 1961 Fidel Castro and Che Guevara commissioned three young architects to build Cuba's National Arts School on the grounds of a country club in Havana. In the minds of its creators, it was to be the most modern and innovative academy of its kind. But before its completion, the ideals of the revolution changed, halting the project and sending the architects into exile. Forty years later, Castro invited them back to oversee the completion of the school they left behind—a story chronicled in Alysa Nahmias and Ben Murray’s forthcoming documentary, Unfinished Spaces. Here one of the architects, Ricardo Porro, shares an early sketch for the academy’s School of Modern Dance, his vision for the building, and the story of what went wrong.
IN A REVOLUTION EVERYTHING GOES FAST. Castro gave me two months [to design] before we began construction. It was almost impossible, but I accepted. The school was to be built on the old country club of Havana, in the most expensive quarter of the city. The construction began and the students began also, taking classes and working in the houses. It was crazy. But you know, that’s a revolution.
When I make a building, I ask myself, what poetical image best expresses the building’s function? There is a definition of art I like by Hölderlin, the German poet: the sensible expression of an idea. And that’s what I try to put in my buildings. An artist is like a thermometer you put in the air to measure the temperature. Our century has been the century of revolutions—it is even now—but when I received this commission, I thought there had not been a good expression of revolution in architecture. I am not an abstract artist. I am a figurative artist. I wanted to create in that school the expression of revolution. What I felt at that moment was an emotional explosion.