Lovers of Cuban art and architecture will not want to miss out on this book: “Revolution of Forms: Cuba’s Forgotten Art Schools” by John A. Loomis with a forward by Gerardo Mosquera, first published in 1999. This book, the updated edition is now available in paperback. John A. Loomis’ book takes a look at the state of art, architecture, culture and political ideology in the Cuba of the 1960s which is symbolized and collides together in the design of one of its greatest works of architecture, the Escuelas Nacionals de Arte. Cuba’s most outstanding achievement in the world of architecture was to be the Escuelas Nacionales de Arte (National Art Schools) located just outside of Havana.
The idea for the Escuelas Nacionales de Arte was born over a game of golf at the Havana Country Club just outside of the city. Fidel Castro and Che Guevara imagined a school located in the landscape of the golf course and discussed and made plans to build National Art School of Cuba on the grounds of the Club. Mid-construction the project was halted due to changing political ideology and subsequent lack of government funds available to continue with the building. What remained were half finished buildings, abandoned and left as an “Unfinished Spaces.” (See our article on the documentary on Unfinished Spaces (2011) here).
John A. Loomis’ book, first published in 1999, drew much attention to the sad tale of the unfinished, abandoned buildings. With all the attention resulting from the book, the Cuban government committed to restoring the place. Since the abandonment of the building, the neglected Escuelas Nacionales de Arte had been badly flooded by the tributaries of a nearby river and overgrown with wild tropical vegetation.
Loomis’ study and photographs of the building takes a look at the abandoned buildings of the school in what has become known as “an eloquent symbol of an elusive utopian dream.” This book contains photographs by Loomis and a collection of archival photographs and plans of this fascinating architectural achievement. Little did Castro realize when he halted the construction of the Escuelas Nacionales de Arte, that he was canceling one of the greatest architectural achievements that stands in Latin America today. As the Cuban revolution evolved, the idea of the large complex was seen as too elitist and decadent, no longer fitting into the ideology of the revolution. One of the architects was even thrown into jail because his ideas were seen as too anti-revolutionary.
The Escuelas Nacionales de Arte consists of open spaces and courtyards, colonnades, extensive use of Catalan vaulting and locally made brick and terracotta tiles. The American embargo made it necessary to use building materials made locally by craftsmen because steel and concrete were unavailable. The Escuelas Nacionales de Arte was to house five art schools in all, the School of Plastic Arts, the School of Modern Dance, the School of Ballet, the School of Music and the School of Dramatic Arts. Architects Ricardo Porro, Roberto Gottardi, and Vittorio Garatti set forth to work on the design of this revolutionary idea. Porro, Gottardi and Garatti, as well as many of the others involved in the project have contributed to Loomis’ historical documentation of this architectural wonder just outside of the city of Havana.
For art lovers, buy this magnificent book about the history of the Escuelas Nacionales de Arte, Revolution of Forms: Cuba’s Forgotten Art Schools by John A. Loomis from Amazon here: Revolution of Forms: Cuba’s Forgotten Art Schools.