Fidel’s Unfinished Dream — Massive Art School Is Metaphor For Cuba

Almost there
Almost there
Miguel Jurado


One of Cuban leader Fidel Castro"s most visionary, and least affordable, projects was the Escuelas Nacionales de Arte or the National Art Schools.

The complex was built on a confiscated golf course that proudly displayed to the world the struggle and passion of Cuba's revolutionary artists. The project, still half-finished 60 years after it was first begun, trained some of the country's most brilliant and promising students. The school, which has detached, hut-like structures made of warm-colored brick, held the spirit of the early days of the Cuban revolution.

In 1961, Castro and his then close associate, Ernesto Che Guevara, commissioned three architects — two Italians and a Cuban — to build the school at the site of a former golf club in Havana. Dancers, musicians and painters began to move into the school even as it was still being built.

The revolution's changing fortunes impeded the school's completion; the government had to move funds to address the country's more pressing needs like housing. Facing a shortage of steel and concrete, architects Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garatti and Roberto Gottardi turned to an "organic" alternative — bricks.

Long and winding road — Photo: TomL1959

The team used this material to build Catalan and tile vaults in the Mediterranean style. The architectural form of the school was free and unusual, which struck a sharp contrast to the dominant modernism of the 1960s, which was a fusion of modernity, colonial tradition and elements of black culture.

Each architect designed a part of the school independently and sought to blend his side with the landscape. Roofed corridors linked the various pavilions.

But beauty came at a cost that the state could not afford. Critics protested that the school was a waste of public money in a socialist economy and that the architecture was too "sensual" and "bourgeois." The project was halted in 1965. Porro went to Paris, Garatti returned to Milan. Gottardi remained in Cuba.

The three were once again invited in 1999 to finish the project. Construction resumed but progress remained slow. For now, it's a beautiful, long overdue work-in-progress.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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