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.
Entries in Cuba (2)
As in Brazil and Venezuela, the pre-revolutionary middle classes of Cuba embraced modernity as an expression of their cosmopolitanism, and Havana still boasts a fast decaying legacy of progressive architecture. When I was there, ten years ago, I was lucky to have Eduardo Luis Rodriguez, a crusader for these treasures, show me around and share his indispensable Havana Guide. Most of these houses and public buildings are off the radar, few Americans have had the opportunity to explore them first hand, and there may soon be little left to see. As in the Soviet Union, there was a brief flourish of innovation in the early, idealistic phase of the revolution before it was snuffed out by the ideologues. The ruined Arts Schools of the early 1960s are a sad memorial to a vision betrayed.
To discover what is being lost, you should sign up for a lecture, “Echoes of the Avant Garde: Cuban Architecture from the 1930s into the 1960s,” at the Getty Center on July 21 at 7pm. Julio Cesar Perez Hernandez, a Havana-based architect, urban planner, and professor of design, will explore the evolution from eclecticism and Art Deco to international modern. His presentation offers a rare opportunity to get an insider’s view and meet an architect who is helping devise a master plan for post-Castro Havana. And be sure to visit the Getty’s photography exhibition “A Revolutionary Project: Cuba from Walker Evans to Now.”