The Russian Circus School

During a round of golf on Jan. 3, 1961 Che Guevara and Fidel Castro decided they would build an art school on the stunning golf course they were playing on. It was thew golf course of the, at the time, most elite country club in Havana. Most members had fled for the during the revolution anyway.

By some accounts the idea for the art school was Castro’s idea, others insist it was Guevara’s. The plan was for Havana to get students from all over the developing world to give them first-class art eduction for free.

The architect was ordered to design an entire campus with five separate buildings for ballet, modern dance, visual arts, music, and theater in just two months. The chosen young Cuban architect Ricardo Porro realized he need help and contacted two Italian friends and architects of his: Vittorio Garatti and Roberto Gottardi.

Some of the faculties were left unfinished, and others have fallen into disuse, casualties of resource constraints. The site is hauntingly exotic, with sensuous Catalan domes, engineering masterpieces, made with distinctive red bricks growing above the exuberant tropical vegetation. As we walked through the school a solitary trumpet student practiced his scales on the vestiges of the then music faculty, popularly known as “El Gusano” or the worm, for its meandering shape. Originally the intention had been to shape it like a treble clef but it was never finished. Nevertheless, one can easily imagine the virtuosity and the beauty of the design, blending over the years and into the dense growth. The contrast between the crumbling orange bricks and impenetrable green is truly a spectacle.

In what was planned to become the ballet school a part was later used as Russian Circus School. The years of abandonment of some of the buildings, particularly the circus and theatre schools, have created a mysterious landscape that evokes the ancient and Renaissance worlds. But the empty buildings also testify to the magnitude of the attempt. The whole ensemble–a living elite cultural university, the unfinished parts, and the abandoned buildings–have an inspirational quality.

It was said that the famous architect Sir Norman Foster had been contacted by a famous Cuban Ballet Dancer to revamp the Ballet School ruins.