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December 8, 2009
by Alysa Nahmias recipient of the 2009 Brunner Grant and Glenda
UnfinishedSpaces

(L-R): Alysa Nahmias; School of Plastic Arts, National Art Schools (Architect: Ricardo Porro, 1961); School of Ballet, National Art Schools, (Architect: Vittorio Garatti).

Matt Ruskin (left); Ben Murray (center, right)

With the 2010 deadline for the Arnold W. Brunner Grant fast approaching, the Center for Architecture Foundation caught up with 2009 Brunner Grant recipient Alysa Nahmias, co-director (with Ben Murray) of Unfinished Spaces. This feature-length documentary tells the story of the Cuban Revolution through its most significant architectural achievement — the Cuban National Art Schools — and the architects who designed them, Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garatti, and Roberto Gottardi. Their story acts as a touchstone to explore Cuba’s past, present, and future, inviting discussions about art and politics.

In 1961, these three architects were commissioned by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara to create “the world’s most beautiful art school” on the grounds of a former golf course in Havana, Cuba. Construction of their radical designs began, but as the Revolution faded, Castro abruptly halted the construction and the architects were deemed counter-revolutionary. Fifty years later, the schools are in use, but they remain unfinished and decaying. Castro, in an unprecedented change-of-mind, has invited the exiled architects back to finish their unrealized dream. The architects, like Cuba’s aging leaders, are “not the same boys” they once were, and at 80-years-old, they’ve reconsidered the relevance of Utopian ideals for 21st-century Cuba. The restoration progresses slowly, and the future of the buildings parallels that of the island, hopeful but uncertain.

When asked to comment on receiving the Brunner Grant, Nahmias responded that, “the Brunner Grant represents a special vote of confidence from my colleagues and mentors at AIANY [and Center for Architecture Foundation], as well as critical financial support at an important stage in this project. For the past eight years, the making of Unfinished Spaces has paralleled my own personal and professional development as an architect and filmmaker. I set out to produce my first documentary against many odds, but with the encouragement of other architects, to whom this film also belongs in spirit.” With the support of the Brunner Grant, Unfinished Spaces is scheduled for release in 2011.

The Arnold W. Brunner Grant is one of five scholarships and grants that the Center for Architecture Foundation administers in partnership with AIANY. The Brunner Grant is awarded annually to fund a project that contributes to the knowledge, teaching, or practice of the art and science of architecture. Past projects have included formal papers as well as the design and construction of new work. The 2010 deadline is 02.01.10. For application details as well as information regarding the other awards that the Center for Architecture offers, please visit the Center for Architecture Foundation’s website www.cfafoundation.org. For further information regarding Unfinished Spaces, visit www.unfinishedspaces.com.

Note: To read about the AIANY Global Dialogues Committee-hosted trip to Cuba, see “Architects Travel to Cuba for Global Dialogues,” by Noushin Ehsan, AIA, and “Highlights From Cuba,” by Jeremy Edmunds, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, in this issue.

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