Cuba’s post-revolution structure presents a blueprint for find out how to construct extra with much less – •

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] M. Wesam Al Asali on Cuban structure, for The Dialog.

World wide, there’s a conjoined disaster of local weather change and housing shortages – two matters on the high of the record of discussions within the latest COP26 local weather summit in Glasgow.

Development and buildings account for greater than one-quarter of worldwide greenhouse fuel emissions. In the meantime, in keeping with a September report by, the U.S. alone is brief 5.24 million houses.

Addressing each crises would require constructing buildings extra sustainably and extra effectively.

However this isn’t the primary time architects and governments have needed to take care of dwindling assets and the duty of housing giant numbers of individuals. In 1959, an armed revolt led by Fidel Castro ousted Cuba’s army dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. As a part of a broader plan to enhance the standard of life for tens of millions of Cubans, Castro’s new authorities sought to develop a program to mass-produce new housing, colleges and factories. Within the years that adopted, nonetheless, this dream clashed with tough realities. Sanctions and provide chain disruptions had created a scarcity of standard constructing supplies. Architects realized they wanted to do extra with much less and invent new building strategies utilizing native supplies.

A thousand-year-old approach

In an article that I co-authored with architect and engineer Michael Ramage and architect Dania González Couret, we explored the artistic challenges of this era by specializing in a selected structural factor that these Cuban architects quickly seized upon: the tile vault.

Tile vaulting is a way that flourished within the jap Mediterranean after the tenth century.

It includes setting up arched ceilings product of a number of layers of light-weight terra cotta tiles. To construct the primary layer, the builders use fast-setting mortar to attach the tiles along with barely any non permanent help. Afterward, the builder provides extra layers with regular cement or lime mortar. This system doesn’t require costly equipment or use of loads of timber for formwork. However velocity and craftsmanship are paramount.

Due to its affordability and sturdiness, tile vaulting unfold to completely different elements of Europe and the Americas. It grew to become often called Guastavino tiling within the U.S – a nod to Spanish architect Rafael Guastavino, who used the approach in over 1,000 tasks within the U.S., together with the Boston Public Library and New York’s Grand Central Station.

Vaults in vogue

In Cuba, tile vaults have been famously used to construct the Nationwide Artwork Colleges, or Escuelas Nacionales de Arte.

Fidel Castro advocated for the development of the 5 colleges on what, earlier than the revolution, had been a golf course in Cubanacán, a city west of Havana.

Designed by Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garatti and Roberto Gottardi, the colleges combine terra cotta shells and arches with the location’s inexperienced panorama. They have been lengthy regarded as the one tile vault buildings in post-revolution Cuba.

Nevertheless, we found that the Nationwide Artwork Colleges are solely the tip of the iceberg. From 1960 to 1965, a spread of vault experiments and tasks passed off throughout the nation.

Shortly after the revolution, architects and engineers on the Ministry of Development – often called MICONS – went to Camagüey, a province recognized for its terra cotta brick-making, to be taught extra in regards to the craft. Certainly one of these architects, Juan Campos Almanza, then a latest graduate of the College of Havana, led the analysis staff. As an experiment, he constructed a load-bearing vault on the grounds of the Azorin brick manufacturing facility.

It was a hit. He went on to make use of the design to assemble reasonably priced and chic beachfront houses in Santa Lucía, north of Camagüey, utilizing the identical vault design.

The very best of each worlds

Brick-and-tile vault building gave the impression to be a promising answer to construct replicable and cost-effective ceilings.

The Middle of Technical Investigations, an company tasked with creating housing, colleges and factories, used Almanza’s analysis to assemble its personal vaulted places of work. An outside area close by – famously known as “El Patio del MICONS” – grew to become a staging floor for extra structural experiments.

In El Patio, craftspeople, engineers and designers labored collectively to develop reasonably priced vaulted buildings, whereas academics at El Patio’s tile masons’ college taught constructing strategies to cohorts of apprentices. [. . .]

Right now, a handful of promising initiatives present how the craft of tile vaulting can serve for the low-carbon building of buildings or engineered ceiling methods. Again in Cuba, tile vaulting is now being taught within the Escuela Taller Gaspar Melchor, a coaching heart in Havana’s historic heart.

Cuba’s vaulted structure displays the connection between necessity and invention, a course of that many individuals mistakenly consider as automated. It isn’t. It’s a relationship based mostly on perseverance, trial and error and, above all, ardour.

Look no additional than what Juan Campos Almanza and his friends left behind on the island: lovely, replicable buildings, a lot of that are nonetheless standing at present.

For full article and illustrations, see

[Above: The School of Ballet by Vittorio Gratti, one of the five vaulted National Art Schools in Havana. M. Wesam Al Asali, CC BY-SA.]


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