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The FOCSA Building

The FOCSA Building: A Modern Icon of Havana’s Skyline

The FOCSA Building, situated in the heart of Havana, stands as an iconic structure that defines the city’s skyline. With its distinctive design and towering presence, this architectural masterpiece has captivated residents and visitors alike. In this article, we will explore the architectural significance, design elements, historical context, and cultural impact of the FOCSA Building in Havana, Cuba.

Architectural Significance

The FOCSA Building holds immense architectural significance within the context of Havana. It represents a prime example of the city’s mid-century modernist movement, blending elements of modernist and functionalist architectural styles. The building’s unique design and grandeur showcase the progressive spirit of the time and the city’s aspirations for modernity.

Protected by Decree – Law C407 Horizontal Property, the company Fomento de Obras y Construcciones S.A. (FOCSA) acquired a 10,000 m² (2.171 acres) of land between 17th, 19th, M and N, streets in Vedado with the aim of constructing the first Cuban skyscraper, which would include residential apartment and commercial spaces. To determine the best use of space, 20 models were considered before finalizing the chosen design. 

The FOCSA Building is the only structure in Cuba that occupies an entire city block with only 2,500 m² (0.618 acres) of built-up area, and all its apartments offer exterior views. During its construction, it held the distinction of being the second tallest building in the world with a reinforced concrete structure, consisting of 39 stories from the foundation to the penthouse and standing 121 m (397 feet) tall from street level.

Design and Construction

Designed by Cuban architects Ernesto Gómez Sampera and Mercedes Díaz and completed in 1956, the FOCSA Building was envisioned as a large neighborhood unit where approximately four to five thousand people could live and work. The building features two-story basement garages for 500 cars, with two additional stories above for shops. Its 35-story Y-shaped structure, with a central tower crowned by observation decks, encompasses 373 residential apartments overlooking a terrace with a swimming pool, gardens, and playgrounds for children. One notable design aspect is the incorporation of the corridors that bypass elevator stops and the cross-ventilation system in all the apartments. Furthermore, the building was designed with separate entrance and circulation areas for owners and easements.  Innovative engineering techniques and the use of reinforced concrete enabled the construction of this impressive structure, ensuring its height and stability.

Construction Challenges and Innovations

The construction of the FOCSA Building presented several challenges due to its unprecedented height in Havana at the time. Engineers and architects employed innovative techniques, such as slip-form construction, to ensure the smooth and efficient progress of the project. The use of reinforced concrete allowed for the creation of a sturdy and visually appealing structure. The FOCSA structure is made of continuous concrete walls from the foundations to the roof, with 30 cm (12 inches)  thick load-bearing walls separating the apartment and reinforced slabs in two directions measuring 17 cm (6.7 inches) thick with two beams for the floors. The elevators were utilized to transport concrete and other materials to their designated locations. Electrical and sanitary installations, independent of the structure or allowing their execution after concreting, were incorporated. For the first time in Cuba, machine-shaped pre-molded plugs were used to position reinforcing steel mesh. The masonry for walls and partition walls was produced on-site using an Italian concrete block making machine. The structure´s engineers, from Sáenz Cancio y Martín Office, conducted tests on scale models to ensure its ability to withstand vertical and wind loads.

Construction of the building commenced in 1954 and was completed in 1956, during a period of architectural innovation in Cuba.  On May 29, 1958, the building was formally handed over to the Council of Owners of the Association of Owners and Residents of the FOCSA Building.

Impact on Havana’s Skyline

The FOCSA Building has had a significant impact on Havana’s skyline, emerging as one of its most recognizable landmarks. Its towering presence and unique design contribute to the city’s architectural landscape, adding a touch of modernity and sophistication. The building’s prominence in the skyline serves as a testament to Havana’s architectural heritage and its evolution over the years.

Function and Usage

The FOCSA Building serves multiple purposes, accommodating various functions within its premises. The residential apartments provide housing for Havana’s residents, while the commercial spaces house shops, restaurants, office spaces, recreational areas and other businesses. The top floors of FOCSA offer panoramic views of Havana and its surrounding areas, making it a popular attraction for both locals and tourists.

Cultural and Historical Importance

Beyond its architectural significance, the FOCSA Building holds cultural and historical importance for Havana and its residents. It symbolizes the city’s development, reflecting the aspirations and achievements of the Cuban people. The building’s history and presence have become intertwined with the fabric of Havana’s identity, evoking a sense of nostalgia and pride.

Maintenance and Preservation

Preserving the FOCSA Building’s architectural integrity is crucial for maintaining its cultural and historical value. Efforts have been made to preserve its original design and features while adapting to modern standards of safety and efficiency. Regular maintenance, including facade repairs, structural assessments, and interior updates, is undertaken to ensure the building’s longevity. Preservation initiatives aim to safeguard its original design features and architectural heritage for future generations to appreciate.

Conclusion

The FOCSA Building stands as a modern icon in Havana’s skyline, representing the city’s architectural and cultural heritage. Its unique design, functionality, and historical significance have made it an enduring symbol of Havana’s progress and aspirations. The FOCSA Building continues to captivate visitors with its striking presence and serves as a reminder of the city’s architectural legacy.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1: Who designed the FOCSA Building?

The FOCSA Building in Havana, Cuba was designed by the Cuban architects Ernesto Gómez Sampera and Mercedes Díaz. Ernesto Gómez Sampera played a significant role in shaping the architectural landscape of Havana during the mid-20th century. His design for the FOCSA Building, completed in 1956, showcases his architectural vision and contributes to the city’s architectural heritage.

Q2: What is the height of the FOCSA Building?

The FOCSA Building in Havana, Cuba stands at a height of approximately 121 meters (397 feet). With 35 floors, it is one of the tallest buildings in Havana and dominates the city’s skyline. The height of the FOCSA Building contributes to its prominent presence and makes it a notable landmark in the capital city.

Q3: What functions are housed within the building?

The FOCSA Building in Havana, Cuba is a multipurpose structure that accommodates various functions within its premises. The building comprises residential apartments, commercial spaces, and offices. Let’s explore these functions in more detail:

  • Residential Apartments: The FOCSA Building provides housing for residents of Havana, offering a range of residential units, including apartments of different sizes and configurations, catering to various needs. 
  • Commercial Spaces: The building incorporates commercial areas that house shops, restaurants, cafes, and other businesses. These spaces cater to the needs of both residents and visitors, providing a convenient location for shopping, dining, and entertainment.
  • Offices: The FOCSA Building also offers office spaces, serving as a hub for businesses and professional services. Companies and organizations can rent or lease office units within the building, benefitting from its central location and facilities.

These diverse functions within the FOCSA Building make it a vibrant and bustling complex, contributing to the urban fabric of Havana and catering to the needs of residents, businesses, and tourists alike.

Q4: Are there any notable architectural features of the FOCSA Building?

Yes, the FOCSA Building in Havana, Cuba boasts several notable architectural features that contribute to its distinctiveness and appeal. Let’s explore some of these features:

  • Wrap-around Balconies: The building features a series of balconies that wrap around its form. These balconies provide residents with outdoor spaces and panoramic views of the city, adding an aesthetic and functional element to the design.
  • Modernist Aesthetic: The FOCSA Building reflects the mid-century modernist architectural style, characterized by clean lines, minimalist forms, and a focus on functionality. The sleek and simple aesthetic of the building contributes to its timeless appeal.
  • Vertical Emphasis: The building’s verticality is emphasized through its uninterrupted facade and vertical windows. This design choice enhances the sense of height and grandeur, adding to its architectural significance.
  • Rooftop Structure: The rooftop of the FOCSA Building features an intricate structure that adds visual interest and architectural complexity. This design element further enhances the building’s overall appeal and makes it visually captivating.

These architectural features of the FOCSA Building combine to create a visually striking and iconic structure in Havana’s skyline. Its unique design elements, modernist aesthetic, and vertical emphasis contribute to its architectural significance and cultural value.

Q5: Can visitors access the rooftop for panoramic views?

Yes, visitors have the opportunity to access the rooftop of the FOCSA Building and enjoy panoramic views of Havana. The rooftop provides a vantage point that allows visitors to take in the breathtaking vistas of the city, including its historic landmarks, bustling streets, and the shimmering sea beyond. The opportunity to experience Havana from such a height offers a unique perspective and allows for memorable sightseeing moments.

In this article, we have explored the architectural significance, design elements, cultural impact, and historical context of the FOCSA Building in Havana, Cuba. This iconic structure stands as a testament to Havana’s architectural heritage and serves as a prominent symbol of the city’s progress and modernity.

©️ 2024 Eastern Engineering Group wrote and published this article. All rights reserved.

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