Havana Highlights

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72 Hours in Cuba

This week we decided to turn the psychitecture lens to one of the most unique cities in the Caribbean: Havana, Cuba. I embarked on a 72 hour journey alongside The Glow Girl Melissa Meyers to explore how the identity of the island reflects on architecture, art, and design in Havana.

   For years, Cuba has been the center of upheaval and cultural change in the Caribbean. From colonial rule to revolution, the city bears the marks of politics and reformation in its streets and buildings. In the midst of change, Havana managed to protect its identity: colorful, exuberant and multicultural.

Arrival into Havana

   Upon arriving at Havana, one of the first things that caught our eye was the seemingly eclectic architecture of the city. This is a city where decorated colonial buildings coexist with simple government housing, where different periods of its history act as layers of the city. During the Spanish colonial rule, the houses built on the island resembled the existing architecture of Europe. As a tribute to island tropical identity, new vibrant colors were introduced as a unique aspect of these Moorish inspired houses. As the French arrived, neoclassical architecture was added to this mixture of tropical and colonial, resulting in a lot of columns around the city.  After Castro’s revolution, the design choices underwent massive change. Function was given more significance than ever and buildings were solely designed to serve their purpose instead of decorating the city. With this pragmatic understanding, tall, unembellished constructions rose around Cuba as a final addition to this eclectic mix. One can observe the changes to Cuban society over the years simply by looking at the layers of architecture in Havana.

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Interior Design

   As with every city, to understand Havana, one has to understand the Cuban people. For Cubans collective conscious plays a huge role in social life. Through the changes the island went through in the last couple of centuries, peoples experiences in Cuba were mostly shared by society as a whole. Unlike the American ideal of individualism, Cuba depends on collectivism to flourish. This characteristic is represented in the openness of the buildings in Cuba. Most casas particulares have wide windows that allow the streets to fill into the private spaces. Similarly, the apartment complexes open up to a patio, a shared space, through multiple doors or windows. This does not only let the light in these spaces and serve to brighten he houses but also decrease the sense of privacy and increase interaction with the outside world. In the absence of the values of individualism, Cubans heavily depend on others both socially and economically. The Hotel LA RESERVA we were staying in reflected all these aspects, striking a balance between casa particular and amenities of a modern hotel. The hotel was characterized by Spanish style tiles on the floors and big windows that open to the patio. The Hemingway House we visited similarly open up on both ends. Wide arches in passages throughout the house enhance the feeling of openness. Finishing touches include hanging plants and wooden furniture around the house paying homage to Cuba’s tropical identity.

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Art

   Some other artistic highlights from the trip include our trip to Fabrica de Arte started by legendary Havana photographer Nelson Ramirez d’Arrellano and Esteria Segura Studio Space. The factory inspired art gallery is a communal space where pieces from Cuban artists are displayed to the public. The factory brings together collective Cuban identity; and modern arts including design&architecture, visual arts, dance, and fashion. The city has been going through an artistic explosion within the past decade and new studio spaces allow for young artists from the island to open up to the world. With its vibrant culture, rich history and eclectic identity Cuba offers fertile grounds for art and design.

For more on the rise of art and design in Havana check out the Documentary ‘Unfinished Spaces’.

Rachel Melvald