Reconsidering the Vaulted Forms of Cuba’s National School of Ballet

Isabella Douglas, Rebecca Napolitano, Maria Garlock, Branko Glisic

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

10 Scopus citations


The vaulted forms and undulating walkways of Cuba’s National School of Ballet (Ballet School) are considered light and graceful, and yet, despite efforts by many Cubans and non-Cubans, these structures sit unoccupied and exposed to a persistently warm and wet tropical environment. The design and construction of the Ballet School structural system was thought to be one of the few modern examples of an ancient construction technique known as tile vaulting (also Catalan vaulting or, in US, Guastavino vaulting) that has defied standardized computational analysis. Given this exciting possibility, there has been a growing interest in conducting formal engineering analyses on the structures, however their remote location has prevented any such advances. In addition to the ongoing physical deterioration of the structure from environmental exposure, the construction-record documents are in jeopardy of being lost forever, therefore, it is deemed a critical time to digitally document the structure and corresponding documents from an engineering perspective, which would grant universal access to the structure thus allowing future engineering analyses. Given the Ballet School’s complex and interwoven cultural, social, political, architectural, and engineering backstory, this work implements an interdisciplinary approach of study, which is imperative if preservation of this structural icon is to be successful. While conducting this archival work, original architectural drawings, historic photographs, and interviews with key members of the design and construction team were reconciled with fieldwork conducted in November 2016 which resulted in the major discovery of a reinforced-concrete, grid-shell system underneath the adobe tile cladding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationRILEM Bookseries
PublisherSpringer Netherlands
Number of pages9
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameRILEM Bookseries
ISSN (Print)2211-0844
ISSN (Electronic)2211-0852

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Building and Construction
  • Mechanics of Materials


  • Brick
  • Construction documentation
  • Cuba
  • Finite element analysis
  • Heritage structure
  • Historic preservation
  • Tile vaulting


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