the story

Revolution of Forms, Cuba’s Forgotten Art Schools (Princeton Architectural Press, 2011) tells the story of the most outstanding architectural achievement of the Cuban Revolution, which for many years stood neglected in the western suburbs of Havana. The Escuelas Nacionales de Arte (National Art Schools) were conceived and initiated by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara soon after the Revolution’s victory, in a burst of utopian optimism. The schools represent an attempt on the part of their three architects: Ricardo Porro, Roberto Gottardi , and Vittorio Garatti to reinvent architecture, just as the Revolution hoped to reinvent society. Moreover, the architects sought to integrate issues of culture, ethnicity, and place into a revolutionary formal composition hitherto unknown in architecture.

But in a short time the art schools and their architects fell out of favor and were subjected to attacks that resulted in the schools’ subsequent “disappearance”, and the departure of two of the three architects. Today, the organic complex of brick and terra–cotta Catalan vaulted structures lies in various stages of use and abandonment, some parts until recently literally overgrown by the jungle. They are a testament to a unique moment in a utopian dream that succumbed to dystopian reality. Ultimately, redemption came, and the National Art Schools are now officially recognized by the Cuban government as national treasures.

Revolution of Forms takes the reader from that euphoric moment of the beginning of the schools through the subsequent convergence and collision of architecture, ideology, and culture in 1960’s Cuba. To get another insight into that unique moment in which the schools were created, this link will take you to Variaciones, an elegant little work of cinema–graphic poetry by the young Humberto Solás, later acclaimed director of Fresa y Chocolate and other internationally renowned films.

Story

“A revolution of forms is a revolution of essentials.”
José Martí

“For me this site of creativity, this space of radical openness and cultural practice is a margin—a profound edge. Locating oneself there is difficult yet necessary. It is not a “safe” place. One is always at risk....[M]arginality nourishes one’s capacity to resist. It offers the possibility of radical perspectives from which to see and create, to imagine alternatives, new worlds.”
bell hooks

“We began the schools with the belief that everything was possible. There was so much faith in the future at that time, and a complete lack of preconceived ideas. The euphoria, the enthusiasm, the unbounded happiness… that is what I believe is most reflected in the schools. And that today is still their greatest message.”
Roberto Gottardi

“the most beautiful academy of arts in the whole world.”
Fidel Castro