Castro’s Cultural Legacy Under Construction…Again

Event: Unfinished Spaces: Cuba’s Architecture of Revolution, trailer screening and panel discussion
Location: Center for Architecture, 05.08.09
Speakers: Alysa Nahmias, Assoc. AIA — Co-Director/Producer, “Unfinished Spaces”; Ben Murray — Co-Director, “Unfinished Spaces”; John Stubbs — Vice President for Field Projects, World Monuments Fund; Luly Duke — President, Fundacion Amistad; Belmont Freeman, FAIA — Former President, Storefront for Art & Architecture & Principal, Belmont Freeman Architects
Moderator: Noushin Ehsan, AIA — Chair, AIANY Global Dialogues Committee
Organizers: AIANY Global Dialogues Committee
Sponsors: Brooklyn Brewery; Zafra Cuban Kitchens

“Unfinished Spaces,” 2010, film still. Location: School of Modern Dance by architect Ricardo Porro. Havana, Cuba.

Alysa Nahmias and Ben Murray

“Unfinished Spaces: Cuba’s Architecture of Revolution” (Anja Film. 2010), a film directed by Arnold W. Brunner Grant recipient Alysa Nahmias, Assoc. AIA, and Ben Murray, documents the story of Cuba’s National Art Schools, commissioned by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in 1961. The design of the five-discipline institute was deemed counter-revolutionary and halted in mid-construction. However, the schools’ program progressed as planned and classes have been held for the last 40 years amidst the rapidly decaying structures. Looted for material in the 1990s, the schools embody Cuba’s cultural heritage, radical architecture, regional building technologies, and restored hope for Cuba’s future. In 1999, they were placed on the World Monuments Fund Watch List, which calls attention to endangered cultural heritage sites.

In 1999, Castro invited the schools’ three original architects to complete construction on the complex and restore the Modern campus for its original use. In 2008, Cuban funding totaling USD$20 million accomplished restoration on two of the five schools that comprise the institute, and the project continues to progress. “Unfinished Spaces” explores the history of the project through interviews with the aging architects — Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garatti, and Roberto Gottardi — who must now acknowledge the change within the architectural world in which their cultural experiment was begun. Those who have played integral roles in what can be termed the “soft” revolution of the National Art Schools narrate the historical legacy of this project, its controversy during Castro’s regime, and its potential impact for the future of Cuba.

The film, intended to be a catalyst for public awareness, is currently in post-production and scheduled for release in 2010. Tax-deductible contributions to the production can be made through the Women Make Movies Fiscal Sponsorship website or by contacting info@ajnafilm.com.