Cuba Culture

Vintage Havana modern architecture leader dies in Miami

Posted July 27, 2008 by publisher in Cuba Culture.


Architect Nicolás “Lin” Arroyo, who played a leading role in pre-Castro Cuba’s modernist architecture and planning movement, has died, his family said. He was 90.

Arroyo died in Washington, D.C., from heart complications on July 13, just three days after the death of his wife and working partner of more than 60 years, architect Gabriela Menéndez y Garcia Beltrán, relatives said.

The couple met as architecture students at the University of Havana, and after marrying in 1942 started the firm Arroyo & Menéndez, which designed several iconic modernist buildings of 1950s Havana—including the Havana Hilton Hotel, rechristened the Habana Libre after the 1959 Revolution, the Teatro Nacional, and the city’s famed sports complex, known today as Ciudad Deportiva.

“His importance within the modern architecture movement on the island is enormous,” said Cuban exile architect Nicolás Quintana.

Arroyo was public works minister under the regime of Fulgencio Batista following the coup of 1952. He also served as Cuba’s last ambassador in Washington in 1958 before Fidel Castro’s rise to power.

He stayed in Washington, where he practiced for more than 30 years, and never returned to Cuba.

In 1954, Arroyo established Cuba’s Junta de Planificacion, a national planning body whose blueprints guided a massive wave of public works across the island, including a modern highway system, made possible by the growing economic prosperity of the era.

‘‘He never wanted to get into politics, but Martha Fernández [Batista’s wife] begged him and he ended up taking the job,’’ said Eduardo Castellanos, Arroyo’s cousin.

As minister, Arroyo oversaw construction of a tunnel under Havana Bay in 1956 and the highway that helped turn Varadero beach, east of Havana, into a famous tourism center.

He also built Barlovento, today known as the Hemingway Marina.

After their marriage, Arroyo and Menéndez lived in a house and studio they built on Fifth Avenue in the Havana district of Miramar that reflected their admiration for the ideas of Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier.

In 1944, Arroyo and a colleague, Eugenio Batista, pushed for Cuba’s participation in conferences organized by the International Congress of Modern Architecture (CIAM), a conclave founded by Le Corbusier and other prominent European architects to shape and promote modernist architecture and urban planning.

‘‘Arroyo’s influence was decisive in putting Cuba on the CIAM map,’’ Quintana said.

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