For me, the notion of visiting Cuba is akin to sneaking into Boo Radley’s home – forbidden, possibly dangerous and alluringly exotic. Therefore, I jumped at the chance when a friend of mine told me he was putting together a group of architects and designers to visit our long-snubbed neighbor. Though only 90 miles away from the US, it’s like visiting another faraway planet. Some preconceptions I had of Havana were true, most were not. Yes, the ancient American automobiles still hulk along the city streets looking like props from a zombie production of Grease. What I was not expecting was the distinct European loveliness that permeates the city. As far as Latin American cities go, it is much more Buenos Aires than Mexico City. Apply to that the decay and neglect from poverty and harsh tropical climate and the result is a bewitching faded gem; a tattered sequined gown still worn with dignity and glory. And the people – wonderful spirits living daily, ever hopeful, loving and ever prideful of their homeland. We could not have felt more welcomed into their realm. This is but a brief album of our journey. We returned from our fantastic waking dream with full eyes and replete hearts.
Various scenes from around the city (I often felt just like the peeking tourist in the last photo).
Grand plaza scenes ever witnessed by humble tenement dwellings.
A vist to the massive stone fort Castillo de la Real Fuerza that sternly protected Havana from foreign invaders (Bobby McAlpine, however, was granted full entry).
Richard Neutra’s design for a Swiss-born family’s vacation home. It serves now as the Swiss ambassador’s official house.
We visited a privately-owned restaurant set amidst the ruin of a dilapidated ancestral home. With its crumbling plasterwork, spiderwebs of exposed wiring and complete absence of window glass, this place took our breath away. Bobby said this kind of beauty could never exist in the US. If a city inspector set foot on the property and enforced one code violation or a health restriction, the magic would be forever ruined.
The buildings of Havana University. We fell in love with the classical courtyard lovingly holding an enormous Banyan tree.
The vaults at the enormous cemetery Colon represented all sorts of architectural styles.
Greg Tankersley and his wife Mary Robin Jurkiewicz
Alejandro Alonso, an architect and scholar of Art Deco in Havana, gave us a guided tour of some of the splendid examples of this ornate style. Alejandro is the author of Havana Deco.
A whimsical Tim Burton-esque home rendered entirely in mosaics. The artistry of a Cuban imagination run wild.
Eduardo Luis Rodriguez, the premier specialist of the Modern style and the author of The Havana Guide: Modern Architecture, led us on a tour of the Instituto Superior de Arte, where Cuba’s leading artists are educated. A portion of this school (Dance and Theatre) was abandoned mid-construction in the 1960s and now sits a bucolic Modern ruin.
The ragged mutts that freely roam the city of Havana are tagged by a small piece of paper that proclaims protection by the Historical Commission. Socialism at its best.
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