When architecture resembles the man

/ 29 October, 2014

Fernando Salinas and his dimension of environmental culture


Our time does not demand so urgently masters of architectural form, but teachers of the new form of society and its structure (…)

Fernando Salinas


Fernando Salinas has never been a simple name within Cuban construction history. He is one of those strange but attractive cases where the title of “architect” takes unexpected connotations that extend its meaning to a much more comprehensive concept of designer. In his career we may find the architect, designer, urbanist, theorist, official, painter, poet … but, above all, the multifaceted creator worried about man, culture and interdisciplinarity as a prerequisite for the design of the work. A posture or attitude that would become the core theory of his architectural thinking: environmental culture seen as a whole and integration of design all scales.

A solid theoretical thinking joined to the practical exercise just after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, era in which architecture for the new man was created. Salinas thus became not only one of the stars of the new architecture, but also his most important theorist since the UIA Congress, in 1963 where he acted as general spokesman. Full consistency between actions and ideology that would allow him viewing and building an architectural project in accordance with the needs of the Third World.

Among his ideas, it was a priority to “do more with less”, or the principles of change and growth, that of adaptability, flexibility. Environmental design would be the artistic and scientific method, through which multidisciplinary teams, acting on all scales of everyday life, would achieve a comprehensive and coherent configuration of environments. It was perhaps at the Embassy of Cuba in Mexico where it was better explained that search of the environmental culture. Here, the integration of architects, designers and artists such as Mariano Rodriguez and Luis Martinez Pedro, ensured the representation of Cuban symbols in each of the levels through a coherent work in all areas.

The truth is that the closer it seemed to be the revelatory utopia of environmental design (or when a man almost makes a dream true) was during the period in which Fernando Salinas became director of the Department of Visual Arts and Design of the Ministry of Culture. His role here would be crucial for achieving greater development of creative disciplines – plastic arts, graphic, industrial, architectural and urban design; and to ensure the integration of all within a project run by multidisciplinary teams.

Events like the National Painting Sample in Bayamo; National Engraving Exhibition in Camaguey; the National Drawing Sample in Pinar del Rio; and the Environmental Design Meeting in the Isle of Youth; demonstrate that right balance he sought to achieve the for all manifestations and regions. On the other hand, Salinas also boosted the renewing of Cuban culture through the emergence of two paradigmatic exhibitions like ¨Volumen I¨ and ¨Detrás de la fachada¨ that were constituted, respectively, the essential trigger for plastic arts of the 1980s and the insertion of the architect in the gallery framework.

He also fostered the idea of an institution for the commercialization of Cuban art (Cultural Assets Fund) and a board that would be responsible for guiding the development of monumental and environmental sculpture (CODEMA by its Spanish acronym). Although, undoubtedly, the most important actions taken under his direction were specifically destined to the environmental design and had in Ernesto Che Guevara Pioneers Central Palace its best exponent achieved, a pilot project that demanded both working with painting, graphics, sculpture, and the participation of architects and designers for its organization.

To these initiatives we must add others than as ¨Telarte¨,¨ Arte en la carretera¨, ¨Arte en la fábrica¨ and ¨Arte en la comunidad¨ during this decade rounded the conceptions of a proposal for comprehensive environmental qualification.

In the late 1980s, Salinas was no longer at the head of the Department of Visual Arts and Design. However, his crucial role in promoting the artistic movement would continue as chairman of the Section of Environmental Design at UNEAC, which, created in conjunction with other architects, he would lead up to his death in 1992.

Architectural Practice and theory were consistent in Fernando Salinas´ career for over half a century of hard work. His most significant contribution is perhaps having shown that nothing is isolated in projective terms, but that all is part of a unitary framework of cultural values that would define our environment.

I have fought all my life, he said, for a comprehensive understanding of Cuban culture including design, architecture, urban planning, in short, all scales of what we would define as environmental design; environmental design that was precisely the result of his creative spirit, his sensitivity and broad cultural knowledge, but also his foray into more than one intellectual and creation field. Indeed, interdisciplinarity that he projected in his role as architect / theorist / promoter / designer / teacher, is certified, in theoretical terms, through his ideas of relating all projection spheres for setting an environmental culture. His, his seemed to be a time where “architecture” was beginning to look like the man, or perhaps like the creative subject.

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