International Study Trip
Egypt 2000 | England 2001
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, Habana Vieja, or Old
Havana, is a 528 acre area that contains approximately 4000 buildings in
a variety of styles including Spanish Baroque, Neocolonial, Beaux Arts,
and Moorish. Since the 1990s, development efforts in Havana include
extensive historic preservation, architectural renewal, and
modernization of infrastructure. Despite a tumultuous past of
imperialism and fighting, Cubans have come to regard the reclamation of
historic buildings and neighborhoods as critical to preserving their
cultural heritage and Cuban identity. During the process of
revitalization in Cuba, issues germane to urban revitalization, historic
preservation, and restructuring have emerged. Therefore, Havana, Cuba is
an ideal place to study architecture and historic preservation.
Between March 1, 2002 and March 10, 2002, twenty-four professionals
and students from Georgia State University traveled to Havana, Cuba, and
what a whirlwind adventure it was. When Kit Sutherland and Richard Laub
first announced that travel between Cuba and the United States required
an entire day, many participants were in disbelief. But, it was true,
and every minute of waiting, nodding, sleeping, and snacking was worth
it to be able to experience Havana, Cuba. It is important to note that I
find it inconceivable to sum up Havana, Cuba in a page. Just putting
Havana into words is a formidable task. It now makes sense to me why
others who have been to Havana and speak about it use words like
magical, intangible, and surreal to describe it - because Havana is all
those things and more. Havana is a city of color, light, music, dance,
and art - a city in constant motion. Havana is also a city of
contradictions: rich/poor, new/old, static/dynamic, loudness/quiet, and
happiness/sorrow - it is the combination of all these qualities and
contradictions that coalesce together making Havana otherworldly.
Experiencing Havana, Cuba was an amazing opportunity.
After a full day of travel, our eventual arrival in Havana, and
checking into our hotel at 10:00 at night on Friday, we were all greeted
by refreshing Cuba Libra's, one of Havana's many signature drinks. The
next day we were off and running on our tour de force of Cuba. In
addition to Richard, Kit, and Jessica Lavandier (who acted as our
interpreter and leader), Lizette Cruz, who is very knowledgeable about
Cuban history, acted as our tour guide, and Frank transported us across
the city. Of course our friend, Architect Alina Ochoa of the City
Historian's Office was our liaison for the trip.
Our eight-day itinerary took us to
a number of different places, focused on a variety of topics, and
introduced us to the Cuban people.
- On day one, we toured the Maqueta,
which is an impressive scale model of the city of Havana. The Maqueta is
used as both a planning and education tool for professionals, the
public, and school children.
- On day 2, almost an entire day was spent
touring the Castillo de Los Tres Reyes del Morro and the Castillo San
Carlos de la Cabana. Both fortresses served as key military outposts and
offer impressive views of Havana.
- The following day (day 3), Architect
Alina Ochoa took us to see a different scale model of the city of Havana
Vieja used by the Office of the city Historian. Then a city planner
explained the role of the planning department in Cuba and their approach
to planning and preservation. Finally, Dr. Isabel Rigol of the
University of Havana architecture faculty gave a presentation on Cuban
architecture and current preservation approaches. Dr. Rigol stated that
the most advanced thinking in preservation is to preserve all layers.
However, she noted that the treatment of buildings is quite varied -
much like in the United States.
- On the fourth day of the trip we
traveled to the Museum of the Revolution. In the afternoon, Victor
Martin, Deputy Director at the National Centre for Conservation,
Restoration, and Museum Studies (CENCREM) lead us on a tour of Park
Central and took us to see a number of significant nineteenth and
twentieth century buildings, including the Estacion Terminal. The
Estacion Terminal, which was built in 1912 and designed by an American
architect, looks surprisingly similar to Atlanta's Terminal Station
designed by P. Thorton Marye in 1910.
- Day five took us out to Vedado and
the Mirimar areas. These areas were developed in the twentieth century
and have an impressive collection of neoclassical and mid-century modern
structures. Interestingly, Spanish-Colonial houses similar to shotgun
type houses were located in this area.
- On day six, the group learned
about Havana's cultural programs and their relationship to the City
Historians Office. We had the honor of visiting with the Historian for
the City of Havana, Dr. Eusebio Leal, who has been involved with the
restoration of Havana for more than thirty years. Later, we visited a
restoration crafts/trade school, a primary school, and a geriatric
center that were all housed in buildings restored by the City
Historian's Office. The director of the trade school explained the
difficulty in finding skilled restoration workers and the serious
efforts that the City Historians Office is making to educate and train
workers in traditional crafts such as metal, glass, masonry, wood, and
- On the morning of our seventh day, we visited the Jose Marti
Memorial Museum. In the afternoon, we went to Colon Cemetery, which has
an extensive collection of monuments, buildings, and mausoleums in
styles ranging from Romanesque to Art Nouveau.
- The eighth day of our
trip, our last day for touring Havana, was a free day. Among other
things, group participants visited local museums, toured Old Havana, and
went to the Cigar factory.
During our visit to Havana, we ate at
a number of good restaurants and everyone had their fair share of Cuban
sandwiches. The Paladares, or privately run restaurants often located in
historic homes, were the most fun of dining experiences. LaGuaridita
(featured in the Cuban movie fresa y chocolat) with its marble
staircase, golden plaster walls, dripping candelabras, balcony view, and
incredible food was determined to be our favorite spot. During the
evenings, several people took excursions to the ballet, the Tropicana,
music venues, and more. Richard has some impressive photos of the
Tropicana where the dancers wear chandeliers on their heads and less
than that on their bodies.
Cuban was a truly amazing experience.
Many thanks go out to Richard, Kit, and Jessica for leading us on our
journey, also to Lisette and Frank for touring us around, and finally to
Architect Alina Ochoa who was instrumental in making the Havana, Cuba
trip possible. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of a long
friendship and tradition with Cuba.