Havana – the Distinctly Weird National School of Arts

Monday, 25 April 2016

Wearing my Global Heritage Fund archaeology hat I visited a very modern archaeology site in Havana, the National School of Arts in Marianao. Here’s the rather flower power School of Fine Arts at the complex. ▼IMG_6154 - School of Arts, Fine Arts - 540
Soon after the revolution Fidel and Che were out playing golf on the Country Club of Havana grounds, there’s a nice photograph of them on the course in their revolutionary fatigues, Fidel looking not totally at home with a golf club. They decided golf was so pre-revolutionary and Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garatti and Roberto Gottardi were commissioned to design a new arts institute to be built on the golf course. They came up with a series of very ‘60s contemporary buildings, mainly constructed of brick since concrete, steel reinforcing and other more modern materials were not available.

IMG_6136 - School of Fine Arts, Music - 540▲The School of Music twists and winds down a slope, it’s been dubbed ‘The Worm’ and was never completed.

While the School of Arts was still under construction Cuba fell into the Soviet sphere and these buildings were suddenly not the right thing, brutalist Soviet they were not. As a result some of them were abandoned unfinished, others were completed and subsequently neglected. The School of Dance, across a river from the School of Music, suffered from flooding and was abandoned. More recently Fidel must have decided they weren’t so bad after all because early this century plans were drawn up to complete the unfinished Music building and restore others. As of yet nothing has happened.

IMG_6120 - School of Arts, Fine Arts - 540▲ The School of Fine Arts again.

Just as I arrived in Cuba there was an article in the New York Times titled ‘Google and Apple: the High-Tech Hippies of Silicon Valley’ suggesting that their new headquarters featured architecture that looked back to the utopian visions of the hippie-flavoured 1960s. Exactly like these visionary structures in Havana. Perhaps Apple or Google could be inspired to tip a few (quite a few) million in to finish what Fidel started?

IMG_6149 - dormitory, School of Arts - 540▲ As if to underline what socialist architecture should look like the Russians funded a student dormitory building, a design that would have been quite at home in Soviet-era Prague or Warsaw. When I strolled by there was a Soviet-era Lada parked outside. None of that hippie-era Detroit school of automobile design.