Havana, Architecture and Urbanism (Part 2)

The modern movement   

Photo Feature by Ariel Glaria Enriquez


HAVANA TIMES – If in the 1920s, magnificent buildings such as Cuba’s National Capitolio, the ETECSA building or Havana’s Grand Theatre were built, in the 1930s, the Spanish character that remained in Old Havana and Central Havana’s closed blocks began to show hints of new styles in their serene neoclassical facades.

In true Wall Street style, tall serrated columns in bank and monumental office building entrances revealed this change in mentality and the end of an era. The solemn sobriety of Modern Monuments and Art Deco’s elegant verticalism took on great superiority in the 1930s and 40s, and would be key in the transition to the modern movement’s more flexible styles.

At that time, Havana had become one of the main tourist destinations for thousands of US holidaymakers. Miami was just a bridge to get to Cuba’s tropical paradisaical landscapes.  At the same time, a large sector of society lived jam packed in the city’s residential buildings and bunkhouses.

Havana’s vibrant nightlife, which was originally tied to the coastal breeze in the Marianao or Buena Vista neighborhoods, entered deep Havana: night clubs, the new Cha cha cha and Mambo rhythms or the long lines of ostentatious cars which would be the sirens warning us of the frenetic period of upheaval that had been idealized by so many in the 1950s. The black storm clouds of Cuba’s political climate, which could be seen on the horizon from the very beginning, would end in the following decade, after a century of the country gearing towards becoming a metropolis.

Starting the 1960s, new building projects were set up in rural areas. Havana stood still in time and, even though our current government rules from here, its policies will always be scornfully anti urban. This explains the pitiful state of Havana’s architectural conservation and all the patrimony that entails.


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2 thoughts on “Havana, Architecture and Urbanism (Part 2)

  • Beautiful architecture!

  • If habanero means focused on a single urban location, I don’t think it’s an endangered species. If it means the chile mentioned with fear and pride by Yucatecan gastronomos, please don’t tell me it’s in danger.

    I’ve just begun to read the contributions to Havana Times. I know virtually nothing about Cuba and something about Mexico, where my wife and I likely will retire, and Spain, where I was living when Franco died. Regarding buildings, I believe that private ownership alone won’t them back to life. In both old (Franco’s) Spain and modern Mexico, the absence of an effective tax system meant lots of commercial buildings in disrepair. Why? Because business owners didn’t pay taxes, so they weren’t motivated to calculate depreciation, a deduction for wear and tear and meant to allow businesses to put funds aside to repair their buildings and equipment. I’m not sure ownership is absolutely required to set up something to bring buildings back into maintained states.I think you’d just need income, tied in some way to the physical capital you control.

    Private property in the west is becoming interesting. One way U.S. companies show greater profitability is by reducing the size of their physical assets, for example when a firm outsources its manufacturing, keeping only its branding operations in house. If you look at the balance sheets of ultra-modern firms like Google and Facebook, you’ll see that the largest asset they possess, by far, is ‘goodwill.’ What’s particularly interesting is that it stands for something that they don’t own (they act as if they own the expected values of cash flows attributable mostly to the sale of human attention, but human attention itself is not considered by the law as private property ). Since around 2000, they are not allowed to depreciate goodwill. Currently, all assets may be depreciated except money forms and goodwill.

    In short, you have options, and the world is becoming pretty interesting.

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