Raúl de Armas, a founding principal of MdeAS, has been recognized with the 2016-2017 Lifetime Achievement Award in Architecture from the CINTAS Foundation, an organization supporting and honoring the accomplishments of Cuban architects, composers, visual artists and writers living outside of Cuba.
“This is a very special award to get,” he says, with a nod to his wife and the four generations of his family on hand at the ceremony held in Nov. 8, 2016, in Miami. “It completed a connection between my past, present and future.”
In his career of more than 50 years, de Armas has designed many buildings, interior spaces and master plans and has received numerous accolades, including the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture and a citation from Italy’s Istituto Nazionale di Architettura. He was named Interiors Magazine’s “Designer of the Year” in 1984, and the Hajj Terminal at King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Saudi Arabia, one of the many high-profile projects around the world with which de Armas has been involved, received the AIA Twenty-five Year Award in 2010.
“[His] career and accomplishments are a true inspiration and serve as a timeless example to future generations of Cubans and others as well,” said CINTAS Foundation president Hortensia Sampedro. “[He has] achieved an international level of recognition that is highly meritorious and significant.”
De Armas, who was born in Havana and whose grandfather and great-grandfather were prominent architects there, moved to the U.S. to study architecture at Cornell University in 1958 — coincidentally and significantly at the same time Ludwig Meis van de Rohe’s Seagram Building was completed.
“It took my breath away,” he says, noting the building remained a significant influence in his approach to architecture for his entire career.
Upon graduation in 1963, de Armas joined Holt & Downing Architects before moving to Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, where he became a partner in 1979. In 1991, he and Leon Moed established Moed de Armas Architects.
“I am proud to have been able to create this office with Leon,” de Armas says. “We were able to do something special. We had great admiration for the beautiful modern work that SOM stood for. So to be able to continue the tradition of good modern buildings that are sought after — that’s a real achievement.”
In his acceptance speech, de Armas dedicated the award to his grandsons, encouraging them to follow their dreams — advice he similarly offers young architects: Stick to what you really want to do and don’t give up.
“My decision to pursue architecture was based on passion and I was lucky to be able to follow it,” he says. “At Cornell, I jumped right in, unprepared. It was not easy, but it was worth it — total immersion, like learning a language. It became a part of me.”
About the CINTAS Foundation
The CINTAS Foundation was established with funds from the estate of the late Oscar B. Cintas (b. Sagua La Grande, Cuba 1887- d. La Habana 1957), a former Cuban ambassador to the United States, a prominent industrialist and patron of the arts. Since 1963, the CINTAS Foundation has awarded more than 300 fellowships to artists of Cuban lineage who reside outside of Cuba.