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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”