Max Borges Jr.
Photo courtesy John Loomis

The Cuban-born architect Max Borges Jr. passed away at his home in Falls Church, Virginia, on January 18, after an extended illness. He was 90 years old.

Borges was born to a well-to-do family in Havana on July 24, 1918. He received a bachelor’s degree in architecture at Georgia Institute of Technology (1939) and subsequently earned a master’s degree from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard (1940). He maintained a successful Havana practice founded by his father, Max Borges del Junco, until departing for exile in the United States in 1959. He lived for a period in Florida, then Pennsylvania, and subsequently settled in northern Virginia.

Unlike many Cuban architects whose practices never recovered in their North American refuge, Borges’ talents in business and design led to a thriving career in the Washington, D.C. area, where he set up a practice with his brother Enrique, also an architect. His most innovative work, nevertheless, remains in Cuba. In the late 1940s he collaborated with the Spanish structural engineer Felix Candela on a bank building, the Banco Nuñez, in Havana, which introduced him to Candela’s experimental work with ferrocement parabolic vaulted structures. Borges later applied this technique with singular brilliance in the design for the Sala de los Arcos de Cristal (1951), the most glamorous nightclub of the famous Club Tropicana complex in Havana. The thin overlapping concrete vaults seem to rise and float over the nightclub floor, letting in light during the day and looking out to the stars at night, a wonderful monument for a talented architect with an innovative spirit.