- Constitutional Modernism: Architecture and Civil Society in Cuba, 1933–1959 by Timothy Hyde
In Constitutional Modernism, Timothy Hyde argues convincingly that constitutionalism as a modality of governance converged with various modernist modes of architectural practice in mid-twentieth-century Cuba to produce a unique set of interventions primarily centered in Havana. On one hand, the book’s temporal framework is marked by the revolution of 1933, which abrogated the Platt Amendment (1901) that legitimized U.S. interventions in Cuban affairs after the Spanish American War and thus inaugurated a period of speculation among local elites concerning Cuba’s possible future as a genuinely independent, democratically governed nation. On the other hand, it is demarcated by the revolution of 1959 that ousted Fulgencio Batista, who was president between 1940 and 1944 and then a second time between 1952 and 1959, a revolution that attempted to redefine governance along different lines. The three sections of the book, titled “Constitution,” “City,” and “Monument,” contain eight chapters that unfold in relation to historical junctures at which constitutionalism as a political, legal, and architectural project was articulated, tested, and transformed.
Hyde argues that the central legal artifact of the period, Cuba’s 1940 constitution, which harked back to the stated ideals of Cuban independence (1898) while providing a normative framework to implement Cuba’s transition to democratic rule in an imagined future, is structurally imbricated with the planning and architectural proposals of the time. These urban plans and monuments, both those only imagined and those built, not only intended to represent a well-established civic order that reflected Cuba’s perceived regional, historical, and cultural particularities, but they also aimed to provide the conditions for this order to be socially enacted. In each of Hyde’s chapters, “the categorical object—the constitution, the city, the monument—serves to arrange and thereby bring into view what was a dynamic circulation of propositions, definitions and intentions among a group of institutional and individual actors” (17). These actors include Havana-based professionals like Pedro Martínez Inclán, Mario Romañach, Nicolás Arroyo, and Eduardo Montoulieu, as well as international figures like architect Jean Labatut, then based in the United States, and the firm Town Planning Associates (TPA), headed by Josep Lluís Sert and Paul Lester Wiener.
Hyde elegantly weaves together analyses of projects, built works, and legal doctrine, positioning Havana as a dynamic palimpsest of discursive and professional exchanges. For instance, he demonstrates how Martínez Inclán’s 1949 Código de Urbanismo draws lessons from the partially realized attempts to regulate civic life in his own earlier plan for Havana (1919) and from the plan for Havana formulated by Paris-based planner J.C.N. Forestier (1925–30) while also presaging some of the central aspects of TPA’s Pilot Plan for the city (1955–58). Similarly, the series of projects for a monument to Cuban independence martyr José Martí (1853–1895), first proposed in 1938 and completed only in 1958 after many architectural and political realignments, becomes [End Page 610] a foil for Hyde’s lucid analysis of debates about the place that the memory of this figure should occupy in the collective consciousness of a nation in formation.
Hyde characterizes the architectural and planning exchanges in all of his case studies as transnational ones, echoing yet not fully engaging with recent literature on the histories of twentieth-century Latin American cities that have strong commonalities with Havana’s story.1 He nonetheless establishes the geographical coordinates of these exchanges along rather predictable lines, describing projects by Havana-based architects and planners as reinterpretations of strategies originally produced by members of an all-too-familiar and somewhat narrowly defined “modernist” canon based in Europe and the United States. While Constitutional Modernism offers little in the way of a revision of these coordinates, it offers much in the way of a reconfiguration of architecture’s place in twentieth-century Cuba’s political economy. As such, it engages current work to remap the relationships...