Havana Modern: Cuba’s Mid Century Houses Have Survived the Revolution—Beautifully
Architecture & Interiors
On the list of things Cuba is famous for—cigars, rum, and vintage cars come to mind immediately—Mid Century Modern architecture surely falls somewhere near the bottom. Yet, photographers itching to capture the grand, crumbling colonial buildings long estheticized by the few Americans lucky enough to have sneaked through on special visas during the last few decades will also find a trove of modernist gems—a legacy of the country’s pre-revolutionry past. Some are in obvious states of disrepair, while others look remarkably well preserved, but all bear the familiar flat roofs, rectilinear profiles and elegant flourishes of ornamentation that modern architecture buffs will viscerally warm to.
Maybe Cuba’s modernist leanings shouldn’t be so surprising. Given its European heritage, proximity to the U.S., and pre-revolutionary reputation for sophistication and exuberance, Cuba’s modern architects were as much in the mood for experimentation and innovation as their more famous European counterparts—who only needed adventurous clients and a hospitable climate in which to realize their built dreams. Cuban architects, like Ricardo Porro, Frank Martinez, and Max Borges merged the visual clarity and airiness of the International Style with well established local residential traditions, like balconies, terraces and verandas. And Cuba’s tropical climate provided the ideal backdrop for flat-roofed edifices, ventilation brick screens, and the seamless interplay of internal and external spaces.
A great many of Havana’s modernist houses reside in Vedado, a business district and neighborhood that has the distinction of being the most modern part of the city. Planned and developed in the early part of the 20th Century, Vedado’s vibrant character, which includes La Rampa, a seven-block stretch of restaurants, hotels and nightclubs, once made it the city’s cultural epicenter, and rendered Vedado a fertile ground for the modest, but inventively modern houses constructed throughout the district until the 1960s. A half century past its heyday, Vedado still remains a viable neighborhood, but is a far more potent reminder of a time when innovative architecture and thoughtful urban planning figured prominently in contemporary Cuban life.