Sandinistas demolish Nicaragua’s Concha Acústica

Tough Takedown: Sandinista wrecking crews had a hard time toppling the 'fragile' Concha Acustica

photo: Jorge Eduardo Mejia

Tough Takedown: Sandinista wrecking crews had a hard time toppling the 'fragile' Concha Acustica

After a week of huffing and puffing, the Sandinista government finally managed to blow down Managua’s iconic “Concha Acústica,” the elegant shell-shaped structure that for the past decade overlooked the lakeshore Plaza de la Fe and served as a backdrop for free outdoor concerts and July 19 political rallies.

Originally commissioned by popular Managua Mayor Herty Lewites, a Sandinista dissident who died of a heart attack while challenging Daniel Ortega for the presidency in 2006, the Concha Acústica was one of most graceful and apolitical monuments in Nicaragua.

Former Mayor Herty Lewites at the Rotonda Periodistas

photo: Glen Small

Former Mayor Herty Lewites at the Rotonda Periodistas

The Sandinista government, which has spent the past seven years littering the capital with hideous improvisations of its own stylings (a faux forest of Seussian, rubber-ducky yellow whirligig trees; a dour ALBA stone hedge; a feverish and glowing tribute to Hugo Chávez; and an unfortunately ugly monument to Alexis Arguello carved out of petrified mashed potatoes by an ungifted artist who had only a vague recollection of what the former boxing champ looked like) decided the Concha Acústica was no longer fit for public service.

The government’s official excuse for the demolition was that the steel-and-concrete monument, which sat alone in an oft-empty concrete field, was a shaky contraption at risk of falling in the next earthquake. That theory was quickly debunked when the Sandinista wrecking crew spent several exhausting days banging on the structure to little effect, and repeatedly snapping steel cables as they tried to pull it down with a crane. Finally, after five days of undeterred destructiveness, the demolition team managed to wrestle the resilient structure to the ground, where it can never threaten anyone ever again.

Many Nicaraguans are admittedly nonplused and upset by the Sandinistas’ seemingly arbitrary decision to needlessly demolish the $850,000 Concha Acústica — the latest national monument to be destroyed by Sandinista sledgehammers or smeared by pastel-dipped paintbrushes. But no one is more pained than the monument’s father, U.S. architect and urban planner Glen Small, one of the most influential and prolific Managua architects of the past decade.

Glen Small

Glen Small

Small says he has a hard time expressing the “pain and sorrow of seeing my most beautiful built project destroyed.” He says he thinks it was done for “malicious reasons” and has spent part of the week “crying at the death” with his “faith in mankind to do right shattered.”

“The shell was so harmless,” Small told The Nicaragua Dispatch this week. “What a waste of everything.”

Small, who is married to a Nicaraguan, built four monuments in Managua during the mayorship of Herty Lewites, in the early aughts. Since then, two of his structures have been destroyed by the current Sandinista government (Concha Acústica and the Colon Rotonda), and a third (Rotonda de los Periodistas) was given a sloppy pastel-colored makeover by the first lady’s fashion team. Small also designed the Carlos Fonseca pavilion.

Small has no patience for the current administration. And he has nothing but scorn for its architectural tastes.

“How can something so beautiful, practical and popular can be destroyed by the dictator powers of Rosario Murillo in blatant disrespect for the profession of architecture, engineering and the people of Nicaragua?” Small says of his fallen Concha Acústica. “It is scary how ignorant, insensitive, crass, and mean-spirited this person can behave; she has shown with her new development projects how crude and out of control she is. The standard (of her government’s monuments) is all so banal. But she is oblivious to all that. Now that is scary. How sad for Nicaragua, a country with so much natural beauty and wonderful friendly people.”

‘The strongest structure in Nicaragua’

Fidel Moreno, an unelected Sandinista apparatchik who essentially runs the Managua Mayor’s office under the tight control of Murillo, warned the first lady’s media outlets last week that the Concha Acústica posed a threat to all Managuas due to its “fragile structure.”

Built Strong

photo: Glen Small

Built Strong

Moreno fretted aloud about cracks caused by earthquake damage and the effects of rainwater penetrating the structure and rusting its metal structure. His conclusion, based more on sycophancy than science, was that the whole thing had to be destroyed for the good of all Nicaraguans.

Small says that’s a load of hooey. The Concha Acústica was the “strongest structure in Nicaragua,” Small insists.

“The foundation soil was compacted for 14 feet and there were heavy concrete thick reinforced concrete steel walls surrounding the compacted earth,” he says. “The sub-stage concrete slab was reinforced with steel rebar that was doubled layered and huge. Gigantic bolts were anchored to the thick steel flat base plates anchored the welded base plates of the tubular steel vertical elements that came continuous from the steel fabricator. All of this was designed by me and the structural engineer to be a space frame where all the members had triangular connections to the other parts. The struts tubular and welded together with steel plate nodes.”

Concha Acustica from the inside

Glen Small

Concha Acustica from the inside

In other words, the architect says, “the structure was strong and safe.” And the roof leak that Moreno lost sleep over “could have been easily repaired” — a spackle job that certainly would have been easier than the total demolition of the monument.

Until the government’s true motives are reveled — perhaps in the plaza preparations for this year’s July 19 Sandinista revival meeting — all Small and others can do is shake their head with a sad sense of loss.

“I never heard anybody say it was ugly or weird,” Small says. “I had reached universal beauty and Rosario Murillo sadistically destroyed that beauty. How sad and senseless.”

 

  • Robert Paul

    Wow…I took a picture of this last week on vacation. How sad.

  • RightSide Guide

    Well…maybe I am the lone dissenter on this forum, but I always thought it was rather ugly. No offense Mr. Small. It just looks dated. And the rotunda de periodista too. Granted it isn’t as bad as the statue of Alexis; I’ll give you that one.

    I also like the big yellow trees. Not for political reasons I assure you, but because it gives Managua, which most people will have to admit is one of – if not the – ugliest cities in the western hemisphere, a sense of modern curiosity and colorful outrageousness. Maybe that’s what Chayo is going for. And while the subject matter of the Chavez statue is probably more a political investment to keep subsidies coming than it is a tribute, I think it looks cool too. A digital statue of sorts.

    • glen howard small

      cool right side guide,

      i am interested in timeless beauty, you refer to the shell as dated so your head is on the move with new things. i am curious if you find live trees out of date, the ocean out of date, or the the sky out of date, billowing sails out of date, the interior of a gothic catheral out of date etc, is there not a thread of form that connects us together on this issue? but if the desire is to go to a carnival as your high point of beauty, then we are at total odds on this subject. we disagree.

      i have a picture of opening night of the shell with wild colors and patterns projected onto the shell with digital age projection, the shell as a screen. rosario choose not to do that. why? the shell was a performance space. i am sure you could come up ways of digital projections to make it cool for you. too late, it is gone.

      glen howard small

      • RightSide Guide

        Live trees, the ocean and the sky: dated. Those look so millions of years old. The cancha acoustica and the rotunda periodista just look like they are from the 1970s.

        In thirty years the golden trees that tower over the Avenida Bolivar will look dated too. I guess the cancha was just ahead of its time.

        Don’t take it personal. Art is subjective. It just so happens that I tend to like Managua art that gets bashed on the internet forums and don’t tend to like what gets bashed with the wrecking ball. One of these days we will bump into each other in the city and I would hate for you to stab me in the neck with a pencil so please don’t take one loudmouth’s opinions to heart.

        And please respond with the attached picture you mentioned; I would like to see it.
        Thanks.

        PS…how did you know I LOVE the carnival?

        • glen howard small

          right side wrong side

          i have no problem being part of million year old nature, but to be branded as 70 ies architecture like it is the curse annoys me. Sydney opera house , twa new york sarinen, and brazilareferring might be what you are referring to. good company that i will be honored to be associated with, because all are revered, timeless, loved and have missed the wrecking ball. too bad that you sanctioned the wrecking ball. you are a sad scary soul.

          i bet you do not lke seed pods, sea shells, and tree trunk patterns. the canival is all about glitz. lights off at ten for the yellow energy hog street trees.

          who is out of date and foollish?

          glen howard small

          opening night 2005

          • RightSide Guide

            Seed pods?

            Look, I am not going to continue this back n forth through comments on a website. You seem like a fascinating person Mr. Small and I would be happy to invite you to lunch one day and we can discuss further our personal likes and dislikes.

            If you will excuse me, there is a carnival today that I need to prepare for. Perhaps I will see you there?

            PS. Nice pic of the concha.

          • glen howard small

            right side wrong way

            oh, just laugh it off. you are a smart person that should know better.

            here is to cotton candy, no universal beauty there.

            thanks for the postive comment on the picture

          • glen howard small

            right side wrong side,

            i goofed, cotton candy is beautiful and sweet, enjoy the moment

            glen howard small

          • http://www.neo-neon.com Clint Wensley

            As a 37 year of Live Entertainment production, this is very south of sad for me. I was in the midst of working with an international production company to produce a multi-media production about the history of Nicaragua. All the history, from creation to now destruction.

            As an audio and lighting engineer with some of the largest touring groups in the world. I will have to now take my ideas to another city

            Beautiful work Mr. Small

          • glen howard small

            clint,

            i am grieved upon reading your proposal to perform. the lost opportunity for Nicaragua. how sad.

            on a lighter note, i was contacted three years ago about using the picture of the concha acustica as a backdrop in a superman film. i assume it never happened, but the picture will live on.

            a live production as you suggested would have been sensational. the shell entertaining opening night for 150 thousand populous with the best of performers, and there after misused , neglected, and destroyed by clueless rosario.

            glen howard small

          • http://www.neo-neon.com Clint Wensley

            Glen, there is still opportunity to be had here. I sent Mrs. Murillo a proposal for this also to be done at the Palace & Cathedral grounds. The amphitheater was going to be the “Finale” location somewhat like Pink Floyds the Wall Live in Berlin

            All possibilities are open, with the exception of the amphitheater

          • glen howard small

            clint,

            good luck with your production and wishing you the best, which is gone.

            glen howard small

  • reefhead

    what a pathetic waste of energy to destroy that structure, of all the issues to deal with in that poor country, by the so called government, their attempt to brainwash the people will backfire. Its only a matter of time.

  • Pepe Turcon

    Most if not all normal decent people are proud of their past (including honest mistakes) and the fact the “Mamarrachos de El Carmen” (Ortega and friends) are so afraid of their own past- is actually because they have none- in the good sense of the Word. This made me realize: that’s the reason they are out of place and sync, their pretentions unwanted,rejected and despised by some 85% of the Nica population (specially those who receive pittance from them, hate them the most) so that they had to steal the country.
    The closest and only definition for the Ortegas and friends is Mobsters like AL Capone and from what the 85% of the Nica people all over Nicaragua are converse ….the perfect storm is brewing. Never a dull moment.

  • monkey boy

    Mr. Small is a fine architect and the shell was as good a structure of that kind as I’ve seen anywhere. I only question that in a country where many people don’t even have potable water where did the money come from? And worse- why destroy something that is beautiful once it was built?

    • glen howard small

      monkey boy

      the money came from the taiwanese government to be used for free public entertainment.

      the destruction was from rosario murillo with her wand of dictatorship. her way or no way.

      glen howard small

      • monkey boy

        In any event it was a gorgeous piece of work. It is a shame that small egos can destroy works of art. I hope this does not embitter you and that you continue creating.

        • glen howard small

          monkey boy,

          you touched a nerve. yes i am saddened. i have a proposal for a beautiful eco town to work on that i should be doing as we speak, but i am shaken to the core.

          i do architecture to bring joy to the world. having my largest build structure to date destroyed after a short turbulent life is wrenching to my soul.

          the real loss is to the people of Nicaragua.

          i can weep, but the death has occurred.

          so public, like taking a saint out to a public square and shooting them. no justice here. should i continue in my efforts in a world of hostile acts against my efforts to bring joy and beauty?

          Nicaragua had my built best. herty lewites gave nicaragua his life.

          glen howard small

          • monkey boy

            I urge you not to lose heart. You have a gift that goes beyound concrete and steel.

          • glen howard small

            monkey boy,

            yes, i have been given gifts of talent that i should use, others unaware of what i see, can propose, and build.

            but it takes two to tango in architecture. the client and the architect. herty lewites the client and i the architect.

            when i do not have a client i propose. see my blog:
            smallatlarge.com and get a scope on my professional life.

            numerous blogs on Nicaragua. i will write more on recent proposals in Nicaragua, that the client baulked at, that would set a new world goal to aspire to.

            so when a client like herty lewites comes along it is rare . once in a lifetime.

            no, i will not give up. i am programmed to better the world through urban planning and architecture.

            glen howard small

  • Ken Morris

    Gosh, there is not even a feeble attempt at unbiased reporting in this piece, which is pure opnionated art/political criticism.

    This said, I like the piece and suspect it’s on target. I just wish it had been labeled an opinion.

    As an opinion, it is weakest at imputing motive. It appears as if Rosario or someone else was simply misled about the danger the structure posed in an earthquake-prone area and made an honest mistake. I’m not seeing any smoking gun that shows this to have been more than a mistake done for the best intentions of public safety.

    However, with the article I suspect that there may be more questionable motives at work. Last I looked, Rosario does consider herself an authortity on all things art (as well as a lot of other subjects) while exercising inordinate unelected power. Odds are that her aesthetic-political preferences were behind this decision–and that the decision was the wrong one.

    • glen howard small

      ken,

      what you read as an opinion was based on a lot of factual information in the recent days in the media in Nicaragua. segio obregon the nica engineer in Managua that did the computer calculations and did field supervision on the shell, stated to me after a competent engineer friend of his was hired by the mayor’s office for consultation and did an inspection before demolition; that there was some minor damage to three of the steel members at the base due to a leaky roof, that could be repaired . the roof repair a no brainer. sergio when on radio expressed this and also that he was never contacted to inspect the project. la prensa also ran some articles quoting sergio.

      my first reaction was to have field tests done to pull on the structure or load the structure to show how strong it was. my wish sadly coming true in the demolition process that the media witnessed: and reported snapping cables and no movement of the shell and unable to tear it down. thus having to resort to a tear down method of one piece by piece over five days and nights with hundreds of workman and heavy equipment dead set on destruction. yes the shell passed the test, but was torn down, that explains the dramatic story you call an opinion.

      i am told there was a decision made at the mayors office last saturday to tear the shell down, and that night demolition started. you would have thought the smart thing was to go public and have neutral professional experts inspect the shell to substantiate the finding of the mayor’s office.
      at least let the engineer and architect that built the shell take a look and make suggestions.

      no, it was a mock trial and by the time the wrecking ball was smashing there was total confusion. that is the way to take an enemy out with a dictatorship. a common strategy, time tested and used repeatedly in history.

      the facts would just have got in the way.

      now one can sit back and gather the facts etc, but the bottom line is the shell is down.

      thank you for your reasonable comments.

      glen

  • Carlos Ovalle

    George Clooney as Frank Stokes in The Monuments Men:

    “You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements and it’s as if they never existed… just ashes floating. That’s what Hitler wants and that’s exactly what we are fighting for.”
    Where are Nicaragua’s concerned architects, planners, artists, historians, and similar folk sympathetic to the cause of the protection of history?

    “Puedes destruir una generación entera, puedes quemar sus casas hasta el suelo, pero de alguna manera volverán. Pero si destruyes sus logros y su historia es como que nunca existieron. Solo cenizas flotando. Eso es lo que quiere Hitler y eso es exactamente por lo que luchamos.”
    Donde están los arquitectos, planificadores, artistas, historiadores y otros nicaragüenses simpatizantes de la causa de la protección de la historia?

    Carlos

  • Greg Goodfellow
  • Greg Goodfellow

    As an urban planner and expat in Nicaragua, images of Mr. Small’s work, such as the one I just posted, were motivation to understand, explore, and appreciate the oft-ridiculed built environment of Managua. This is great failure of ortega’s misdirected pride: efforts to “improve” his city only decrease opportunities for outsider interest, the true mark of urban success. Salud, mr. Small.

  • RightSide Guide

    Wait…if they tore down the cancha acustica due to earthquake damage, why is the Cathedral still standing?