The Havana That the Castros are Going to Leave Us / Ivan Garcia
Posted on March 23, 2014
Autocrats always want to transcend their own times. The Roman emperors,
Hitler, Mussolini and the communist dictators Stalin, Honecker or
Ceaucescu, bequeathed their own styles of architecture.
In Rome they still retain coliseums and palaces. Mussolini left hundreds
of works, constructed under the label of fascist rationalist
architecture, rolled out in Italy at the end of the 1920s in the last
Hitler also put up buildings and spaces in the Nazi cult, with the
patronage of Albert Speer, in an original architectural style inspired
by neo-classicism and art deco.
Sixty-nine years after the psychopathic Führer shot himself in his
Berlin underground bunker, just before the defeat of the Third Reich,
the Germans are still driving along the magnificent autobahns built in
the Hitler period.
A serial criminal like Stalin left us socialist realism – horrible,
certainly – which encompassed all the arts. Nicholas Ceaucescu, another
dictator doing it by the book, demolished a fifth of Bucharest and put
up new buildings.
His greatest project was the Palace of the People, the second biggest
building in the world, after the Pentagon in Washington.
Fidel Castro won’t leave any timeless architectural works. He put up
thousands of schools and hospitals, but, apart from the Instituto
Superior de Arte, in the Playa Council area of Havana, the rest of his
designs disfigure the landscape.
And forget about quality of construction. Most of the buildings put up
after the bearded people came to power look older than many built at the
beginning of the 20th century.
In Havana, capital of the first communist country in America, the
architectural legacy will be irrelevant. You’d have to search with a
magnifying glass to spot any high calibre work.
Among them would be the Coppelia ice cream shop, designed by Mario
Girona in the centre of Vedado, or Antonio Quintana’s Palacio de
Convenciones in the suburb of Cubanacán. You could also make an
exception of Camilo Cienfuegos city, in East Havana, and Lenin Park, a
green lung provided on the outskirts of the city.
But architectural design from 1959 onwards is, to say the least, odd. If
you could demolish the dormitory suburbs of Alamar, Mulgoba, San
Agustín, Bahía, or the twenty or so horrible apartment blocks built with
Yugoslavian technology in Nuevo Vedado, you would partly put right some
clumsy construction mistakes.
Havana, a city which is pretty and conceited with its several kilometers
of gateways and columns, and a splendid esplanade among its
architectural offerings, maintains the greatest variety of styles.
It was designed for 600,000 inhabitants. Today 2.5 million people live
there. The regime has neither modernised nor widened its streets or
avenues or a site as important as the Albear aqueduct.
They have only patched and asphalted the principal arteries. They have
not improved the roads of Las calzadas de Monte, Diez de Octubre,
Luyanó, Cerro, Infanta, Avenida 51 or Puentes Grandes to deal with the
increase in vehicular traffic.
Some 70% of the side streets are full of potholes and water leaks. 60%
of the buildings are crying out for fundamental repairs.
Let me give you a fact. According to an official of Physical Planning in
Havana, 83% of works carried out are done privately. The urgent need for
homes to be built has resulted in constructions all over the length and
breadth of Havana without benefit of professional advice.
Thousands of home-made cast-iron windows with hideous grills make the
capital look even uglier. The impression you get is of a large prison.
Without any order or harmony, desperate families refurbish buildings and
houses of great architectural value, trying to improve their lives a little.
The once cosmopolitan Havana, at the forefront of new technologies like
the telephone, radio, or long distance TV transmissions, has now turned
its back on globalisation.
The internet is a science fiction dream for many of its citizens. And
what was once a beautiful colonnaded city, which would inspire Alejo
Carpentier, is, in the 21st century, a heap of ruined buildings and
The Castro brothers haven’t even been able to leave any legacy in the
city where they have been governing for years.
Photo: Taken from Juan Valdés César’s blog where you can see more images
showing the current state of Havana.
Translate by GH
23 March 2014
Source: The Havana That the Castros are Going to Leave Us / Ivan Garcia
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