Book Review: Havana Modern

Courtesy Rizzoli

Courtesy Rizzoli

Modern: 20th Century Architecture and Interiors. Michael Connors. Rizzoli. $65

An idealized portrait of the crumbling Cuban capital, which offers very incomplete coverage of the modernist treasures of the 1940s and 1950s. The subtitle is more exact: The early decades of the 20th century saw a wonderful flowering of Beaux Arts and Art Déco, including a scaled down version of the US Capitol and the exuberant Bacardi Building. Those decorative styles occupy more than half this book, but the images must have been extensively photo-shopped to achieve such pristine elegance. In reality most of these houses and public buildings are shabby and decayed, even on the verge of collapse.

The authorities have over-restored the historic core of Havana to please the tourists, while neglecting—for commercial and political reasons—anything that could be associated with the Batista regime and the middle-class exodus that Castro provoked. One exception is Neutra’s Schultess house, which is well maintained as the residence of the Swiss Ambassador. It’s good to see that Ricardo Porro’s post-revolution School of Dance—long an abandoned ruin—has finally been restored, but one wonders what became of so many earlier modern buildings. To understand how rich the legacy is, one should consult The Havana Guide, which was compiled by Eduardo Luis Rodriguez and published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2000.

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