2012: L. Aruca, XXI Century's Cuban Architecture. Unresolved conflicts only?

By Lohania Aruca Alonso

Source: ARUCA ALONSO, Lohania. Arquitectura cubana del siglo XXI. ¿Solamente conflictos sin solución? Arquitextos, São Paulo, año 12, n. 142.02, Vitruvius, mar. 2012 <http://www.vitruvius.com.br/revistas/read/arquitextos/12.142/4269>.

Location of Camagüey, city of the Republic of Cuba, in the Caribbean [Cubarte]

The Second National Colloquium "For Cuban Architecture" organized by the UNEAC's Camagüey chapter, in order to discuss about Cuban architecture, urbanism and architects' current problems, took place in this city, from October 1 to 5 of 2011. It was cosponsored by the Cuban National Union of Construction Architects and Engineers (UNAICC), the Faculty of Construction of this province and the Office of the Camagüey City Historian, whose rejuvenated and beautiful headquarters served as the event's venue.

Patio of the Camagüey City Historian's Office, where the 2011 II Colloquium on Cuban Architecture took place [Cubarte]

Architects, Art Historians, Historians of other specialties, teachers and students of Architecture took part in the event. Among those present were Professor Emeritus Lourdes Gomez Consuegra, representing the University of Camagüey's Construction Faculty, and Professor Emeritus Sergio Ferro Cisneros, for the Faculty of Architecture at ISPJAE. A special guest was the filmmaker Roberto Paris who presented his film "We Have No Right To Wait" released in 1971. This documentary, which is considered a paradigmatic testimony of the first revolutionary stage's construction activity, amply illustrates the various dimensions of the national plan for all types of buildings (agricultural, industrial, educational, sanitary, etc.), which the Cuban revolutionary government launched  at the beginning of the decade of the 70s, supported by outstanding professionals and the creation of construction workers' micro-brigades.

The central themes of the discussion were: the architect and his work; the circumstances and possibilities that exist or do not exist for these tasks to be carried out with a quality that matches the needs of Cuban society, implicating a critical review of the current situation for its immediate transformation ("changing everything that must be changed "); and the basis on which the correct formation of the new professionals is supported.
Linked to the central theme, an exhibition was inaugurated showing the exemplary life and professional work of architects Vicente Lanz and Margot del Pozo; a presentation of which was delivered by architect Juan Garcia Prieto, on the opening day.

A view of the exhibition on the life and work of the Cuban architects Margot del Pozo and Vicente Lanz (deceased) [Cubarte]

Subsequently, Architect García broadened the information in a lecture rich in illustrations about the experiences and reflections of this couple that lovingly remain united throughout their lives. The original text of an interview previously made to Lanz and del Pozo was read by García; in it the loyalty to their profession and to the Cuban Revolution was reaffirmed, despite having to change their private activity for jobs in state-run design teams devoted to social programs that had to do with a wide variety of building projects.

Aerial view of the "Niña Bonita" dairy farm, Havana, Arch. Lanz and del Pozo (MICONS) [Cubarte]

On the morning of Sunday October 2, event attendees took part in a visit to the historic center of Camagüey, headed by architect William Rodriguez Ramos. The historical and architectural values of this urban center, founded by the Spanish conquistador Diego Velázquez almost half a millennium ago (1514) in the Puerto del Príncipe (or Nuevitas) and refounded on more than one occasion on the east-central zone of Cuba, were recognized in 2008 by UNESCO and added to the World Heritage List.

The tour of this historic center, included the shopping promenade or traditional commercial pedestrian street (so-called bulevar in other provinces) (1), located on Calle Maceo, from the Maceo Plaza to the Solidarity Plaza (or de la Soledad, named so for the Catholic Church in which its visual perspective concludes). The reconstruction and remodeling of the now shopping way was done under the direction of Architects Hector Don Otero and Yosmel Diaz Perez, as architect on site. Notable is the Paseo's study of each of its elements: for example, the pavement has been carefully designed, taking into account not only its aesthetic aspect, simple and elegant, but also the delimitation of each of its functions related to the access and use by pedestrians, or by the vehicles that daily distribute supplies to shops and hotels that line the Paseo; the means to collect and dispose of liquid and solid wastes without affecting the decorative details is also successfully achieved.

Maceo shopping Paseo, perspective. In the background the church of Nuestra Señora de la Soledad. Camagüey
Photo Lohania Aruca Alonso [Cubarte]

The shopping Paseo is architecturally qualified by notable buildings from the Modern Movement, as "El Encanto" (ca.1940). There are also old hotels from the colonial era, such as the Gran Hotel, which has increased its accommodation and cuisine services with a new, small hostel, recently recovered by the Ministry of Tourism's Real Estate corporation: “El camino de Hierro” which was inaugurated on April 16th, 2011. The latter, in the nineteenth century, was a popular commercial establishment located at the busy and picturesque intersection of the Republic and Maceo streets, just opposite to that space (now Plaza de la Solidaridad), is the Church of Nuestra Señora de la Soledad (1758-1776, according to Weiss) (2) and the recently remodeled Parque del Gallo.

"El camino de Hierro" Hostel, opposite the Plaza de la Solidaridad, and the Parque del Gallo, Historic Center of Camagüey
Photo Lohania Aruca Alonso [Cubarte]

Parque del Gallo, a traditional site in the Historic Centre of Camagüey
Photo Lohania Aruca Alonso [Cubarte]

That Sunday morning we also visited the headquarters of the City of Camagüey Model, a scientific-technical contribution to the study of Cuban urban planning and architecture that offers a magnificent panoramic view of the city, highlighting the different stages of its urban growth. Some of the architects who expressed in their work the principles of the Modern Movement (MOMO) in the city and other municipalities of Camagüey, can be seen as part of a brief but educational exhibition. There the most outstanding works of Architect Elena Ramos (1920) are displayed, such as the Casino Español in the municipality of Florida, of Jorge Quesada (1927) and other Camagüeyan Architects, which are still little known and recognized in Cuban architecture's history. The importance of Art Deco, Functionalism and the International Style in private and public buildings, identified the architectural activity trends prior to 1959.

Architect Elena Ramos (1920) and part of her built work.
Photo Lohania Aruca Alonso [Cubarte]

Architect Juan Ramos (1930-2007) and examples of his work built in Camagüey.
Photo Lohania Aruca Alonso [Cubarte]

Following that milestone, works by the Architect Reinaldo Togores (1939) are displayed, where remarkable contributions to the architecture promoted by the revolutionary government in the field of education were made: the "Maximo Gomez" Vocational School in Camagüey is one of the best known internationally; while from Octavio R. González (1942) -present in this Second Colloquy- the planning for the Montecarlo micro-district is shown, a contribution to the city's urban modernization.

Architect Reinaldo Togores (1939). Maximo Gomez Vocational School in Camagüey.
Photo Lohania Aruca Alonso [Cubarte]

Architect Octavio R. González (1942) urbanistic project, Montecarlo micro-district in Camagüey.
Photo Lohania Aruca Alonso [Cubarte]

The Model of the City of Camagüey allows us to visualize at once this unique urban complex; colors differentiate the city's different stages of growth, so one can quickly understand both the contours and content of the historic center, and the those from recent times, clearly showing the (uncontrolled) sprawl of the suburbs. This is one of the threats currently facing the urban and architectural development Camagüey, like in the case of many other Cuban cities. The problem was explained thoroughly, with great mastery of the causes and immediate consequences, by Architect Wilfredo Rodriguez in the paper entitled "Diamond in the Trash".

In the event's first presentation "Architecture without Architects? A counterculture of the profession in Cuba"  Architect Florentino Rivero Moger, referred directly to the loss of values in the profession and the existence of a (negative) "counterculture"(3) which denies the profession's most essential and precious asset, its contribution to orderly, dignified and beautiful surroundings, equivalent with the developments taking place in other areas of culture. The speaker placed special emphasis on the lack of recognition of the architect's authority, and on the little or no recognition of the architect's author rights by the institutions in charge of construction in Cuba. Issues which must be resolved urgently and effectively, if restoring order and legality with regard to territory, cities and architecture, is really wanted, having Architects as the protagonists of the necessary change.

"Cuban Architecture, goodbye" by Architect and Art critic Nelson Herrera Ysla was read, with his permission, in the author's absence. In general, the paper deals with the process of decadence that marks the last decades of architecture in Cuba, despite the intensity of construction work done in the case of buildings for tourism, and with the tireless work, extensive and qualitatively significant, occurring on issues of architectural and urban heritage in almost all provinces. What do the past 30 years contribute to the evolution and progress of Cuban professional architecture? Of particular interest is his analysis and warnings in the case of the most recent decades. I quote:

“The 90s, in turn, triggered a major constructive reaction in the tourism sector in order to meet the demands made by this sector due to the intensive advertising campaigns and the reintegration of Cuba in the international arena. As of design and execution many saw in this initial boot magnificent possibilities to achieve a higher quality in the conceptual, constructive and environmental level, a fact which raised hopes for the renewal of the battered built landscape around us. On the contrary, little by little they became diminished.
Today it would be difficult to highlight any achievements in lodging and leisure architecture: rather the usual thing is to ascertain the degree of homogeneity of most projects, irrelevant because of their proposals despite having, for each development, the best materials and resources available in the country. Such an advantage -not to say privilege- over other constructive programs was not sufficiently taken advantage of by architects, interior designers and landscapers in order to promote the necessary qualitative leap forward. An opportunity, perhaps the only, to reverse the unfortunate situation in which Cuban architecture finds itself, so distant from that moment in our building history in which it captured the attention and admiration of experts and the general public, has been missed. A nondescript architecture, full of schemas and topics usual in any region of the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, fills some of our best, mostly coastal, urban settings but mainly in the adjacent Cuban archipelago keys, in a pathetic eagerness to resemble any location in the world, so as not to arouse too much suspicion for originality, innovation and environmentally autochthonous searches that might disturb or could disenchant the tourists who visit us and, in equal measure, the sponsors that support them.”.

Another major theme, which has national hierarchy, was presented by the Architect and PhD. Ruben Bancrofft in the paper entitled "Forming architects, Havana 2011". In his speech he unfolded the changes proposed in the career of Architecture, stressing in particular the priority of time devoted to research and the independent work of students and future architects, and the need for more direct link with the surrounding reality in which they must carry out their profession.

The relationship of buildings with green areas, their creation, preservation and rational development, taking into account the threats of climate change, among others, was the subject of the dissertation of the PhD. Architect Sergio Ferro Cisneros "Architects and the Culture of Urban Greens". This intervention was very well received by all present because of the speaker's didactic quality, his conceptualization expertise and exquisite illustrations.

The presentation on "The atmosphere to design public space/public art" by the Superior Art Institute Professor Raul Navarro Padron, was read in the absence of its author, so the discussion was limited.

In general, the II Colloquium confirms the importance of this biennial event, at national level, which maintains its center in one of the historic cities of greater economic and cultural importance of Cuba. It is undeniable, and necessary, that the convocation should be extended, that the participation of the number of professionals from other Cuban provinces is increased; that the event is promoted for the Caribbean, and even the South American continent, so the confrontation between different realities, thoughts and languages of the Americas, brings us closer, enriches and makes the event more productive. Because the experiences exposed in these discussions take into account particularly medium and small cities; their contemporary problems and solutions, always in relation to the national and local identity and culture; and focus on the professional training required to meet the aspirations in each case, according to their real potential and contradictions. This confers uniqueness to the national event that brings us to Camagüey, and provides it a significant value scarcely achieved in other architectural and urbanistic events.

Once again, from these brief lines, I am sending a double message: first, my sincere congratulations and thanks to the organizers of the event, its sponsors and supporters, because of the importance that bringing outside from Havana (we know that it is the capital for all Cubans) the analysis on the manifestations of national culture: of its problems and proposed solutions; because of everything learned in each of its sessions. On the other hand, an urgent call to construction officers in all its specialties, national and local, among them the so-called "decision-makers", to take more interest in this event and attend its debate sessions in defense of Cuban architecture. Of course, in the 2013 Third Colloquium for Cuban Architecture's space and time, there will still be plenty to discuss by everyone.


  1. Bulevar. (From fr. boulevard; cf. baluarte). m. Generally broad street with trees. || 2. Central wooded promenade of a wide avenue or street.. (DRAE, 2006)
  2. Weiss, Joaquín E. La Arquitectura colonial cubana, ICL, AECI, Junta de Andalucía, Sevilla, 1996, p. 312.
  3. Counterculture. Social movement which emerged in the United States in the 1960s, especially among young people, who reject social values and established lifestyles. || 2. Set of values that characterize this movement and other attitudes of opposition to the current lifestyle.

about the author

Lohania Aruca Alonso is a member of the UNEAC, Vice-president of the History Section of the Writers' Association and member of the UNAICC.