A CHPC cohort traveled to Havana, Cuba from May 4—7, 2016, combining a stimulating educational experience with a look inside a door that has been closed to most Americans for decades. Our trip centered on the architecture of the city and the eras of development it experienced. We began with a lecture by architect and professor Julio Cesar Perez Hernandez at the beautiful National Hotel. In Professor Perez’s view, the city of Havana escaped most of the urban renewal projects that were common in other Western cities of the mid-20th Century because after the 1959 revolution, the Cuban government focused its resources on the rural parts of the country. He has developed a master plan that strives to respect each neighborhood’s density while embracing the growth likely to come to Havana in the coming years.
Almost all of the buildings currently standing in Havana were built before 1959, which fuels the city’s vintage feel and appeal. The colonial-era Old Havana, with its charming system of squares, is the focus of the government’s preservation efforts. Such a narrow focus creates a conundrum for the city’s other neighborhoods, where the burden of preservation falls mostly to residents themselves. Other parts of our trip took us to more suburban developments, including luxurious pre-1959 houses and public housing developed around the 1991 Pan American Games, which Havana hosted.
The trip was a very special experience for CHPC board members and friends, for whom the idea of traveling to Havana has not been realistic for most of our lifetimes. The beautiful city, friendly people, good food, and hospitality—not to mention the eye-opening lessons about building and development in Cuba—created indelible impressions on all of us. To view more photos from our trip, head to CHPC’s Facebook page!