Concrete and socialism: modernist architecture in Havana

The key brutalist buildings in Cuba's capital






Phaidon’s commissioning editor Michele Robecchi on why there’s more to Havana than old cars and faded villas
The revolution must be built!
Cuba established strong ties with Russia and China in the 1960s and as a result the architecture was very influenced by what was going on in those countries, because of the strong commercial ties.
The Solimar: Cuba’s Guggenheim (top)
One of my favourite buildings in Havana is the Solimar – it was made in the 1940s by Manuela Copado. It’s a great building because it looks like the Guggenheim in New York, built just seven years after.
The Fosca: an alien in Havana (second to top)
Built by engineer Luis Sáenz Duplace and architect Ernesto Gómez Sampera, the Fosca is the tallest building in Cuba. Opened in 1956, it’s a reflection of what was going on in Latin America at the time – think of the construction of Brasilia, when they felt that they were building utopia. People really did believe that architecture could change the world for the better. You can see that in the Focsa – it’s alien to the landscape around it: very big, really majestic and imposing. 
Moscow in the sun: the Russian embassy (third)
“Another building worth mentioning is the Russian embassy – it’s classic Soviet architecture, very ominous. We’re used to seeing this kind of building in eastern Europe – there’s one like that in Warsaw, one in Sofia. But it’s strange to see one in the Caribbean. Ultimately that’s the kind of thing that makes the city landscape so interesting.
Casa de Las Americas and The School of Arts (fourth and fifth)
Casa de Las Americas was built in the 1950s. It was also a time when a lot of Latin American countries were becoming conscious of their identity, working to emancipate themselves from the colonial influence and prove that Cubans could come up with something original.
The School of Arts is very interesting. It was built in the 1960s, and the concept was to build a multi-disciplinary school with the reasoning that, ‘We’ll make our city much better by teaching art.’ It was divided into  five different buildings – art, ballet, modern dance, music, architecture. They called three architects to build it – one local, Ricardo Porro, and two Italians Roberto Gottardi, and Vittorio Garatti. 
It’s loosely based on the Haight School of Performing Arts in New York. The school started functioning, but while the 1960s were a time of utopia, they were also a very challenging time politically and art education wasn’t a priority. A lot of the complex was abandoned, apart from fine art and modern dance – which is interesting as they’re the two most radical disciplines.
A UNESCO world heritage site, it’s focused on two basic principles: firstly, use local materials, reflect what’s available in nature on the island; secondly, make a building that will resonate with the landscape, with the location. It’s such a wonderful structure, it has very curvy, harmonious architecture. It’s a fascinating thing to see.
Michele Robbechi is the commissioning editor at Phaidon Press. He was speaking at the Sobremesa, an after-dinner conversation hosted by Havana Club at the Bulgari Hotel, London. This is the first in a series of sobremesas that will be taking place across London this summer with Havana Club.

Concrete and socialism: modernist architecture in Havana Comments

Sign up to the Brolly Brief