Cubans have an international reputation for their spirited high-quality art, which is manifested in mediums such as paintings, sculptures, cinema, music, as well as the design of structures. This exhibition focuses on selected “thin shell” structures designed and built in the mid-20th century in Havana. Thin shell structures are long-span roof coverings, which in this case are built out of reinforced concrete and/or terracotta tiles. As a whole, these structures illustrate the creative artistic talent of Cuban architects and engineers.

Historical examples throughout the world illustrate that constraints enable creativity – some of the most creative structural designs are born of tight economic and/or physical constraints. It is therefore not surprising to see elegantly creative Cuban designs that were conceived of and built with limited resources. “Creativity in Cuban Thin Shell Structures” tells the story of select engineers and architects who shaped Havana’s architecture of thin shell structures and in some cases defined an authentic style that is creatively Cuban.

This exhibitionCreativity in Cuban Thin Shell Structures”, is located at the Friend Center Library, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, and it was conceived in the spirit of preceding projects; The Art of Structural Design: A Swiss Legacy, Félix Candela: Engineer, Builder, Structual Artist, Fazlur Khan: Structural Artist of Urban Building Forms, Evolution of German Shells: Efficiency in Form, and The Art of Spanish Bridge Design. This exhibition is a result of the Fall 2016 term of the course “CEE463: A Social and Multi-Dimensional Exploration of Structures.” In this course, students learned the engineering principles behind thin shell structures, and their social and symbolic dimensions. This integrated perspective was developed through detailed engineering analysis, first-hand experiences of the structures in their context from site visits to Cuba, and the process of building the exhibited models. The stimulating experience of model creation challenged students to overcome conceptual problems similar to those encountered in the construction of the structures in actuality.

We are grateful to many people, acknowledged below, who saw the importance and value of such a course and made CEE463 Fall 2016 edition and accompanying exhibition possible. Thank you for the unforgettable experience for our students.

Maria E. Moreyra Garlock
Branko Glišić
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering


Financial Sponsors:

  • Program in Latin American Studies (PLAS): Ruben Gallo and Gabriella Nouzeilles
  • Vice Provost for International Affairs and Operations (Banco Santander through the Learning Across Borders): Anastasia Vrachnos
  • School of Engineering and Applied Science: Emily Carter and Antoine Kahn
  • Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering: James Smith
  • Council on Science and Technology: Naomi Leonard
  • Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education: Mung Chiang

We are also thankful to the many people that contributed their time to the course and/or the exhibition: Ruben Gallo, Professor of Spanish and Portuguese, inspired the theme of Cuba and participated in many significant ways. Eduardo Luis Rodriguez, Cuban Architectural Historian, along with Ruben Gallo, were our guides in Cuba and gave us valuable insights to the culture. We are thankful to the guest lectures in our class given by Ruben Gallo, Belmont Freeman (Principal of Belmont Freeman Architects and expert on Cuban architecture), and John Ochsendorf (Professor at MIT and expert of Catalan vaults). We are also grateful to the following architects and builder of the National Arts School for sharing their time, stories, and/or information with us: Roberto Gottardi, Vittorio Garatti, and Jose Mosquera. The graphic design for the website and exhibition was done by the talented Ryan Roark. We thank the Friend Center Engineering librarian, Willow Dressel, for allowing us to use her library space, and Linda Everett for designing the website.  Finally, the course could not have succeeded without our spirited and energetic teaching assistant Rebecca Napolitano.