Advanced Design Studio: Cure/Penabad

HAVANA- HOUSING IN THE HISTORIC CITY CENTER

Course

1117b
Design and Visualization

Offered

Spring
2013

Faculty

Project description

The design studio will cope with the pressing problem facing many cities in Latin America- the degradation and neglect of the historical city center. Considering the relevance of historic centers as providers of character for a given city and as the origin of the identity of that particular city- there should be an effort to not only stop the existing decline through the preservation of existing structures but to improve the living conditions through the incorporation of new housing models capable of addressing the needs of contemporary society.

Nowhere is this challenge more poignant than in Havana, Cuba. Havana is one of the richest and most eclectic urban environments in the Americas, but it is largely crumbling. The city’s urban development has been dramatically different than other nearby Spanish colonial cities such as San Juan or Cartagena de Indias. These sites have experienced the more typical cycles of decline and preservation associated with free market economies including the mass exodus to the suburbs after World War II and the recent restoration efforts to transform the historic center into a profitable tourist destination.

Such is not the case in Havana. The political and economic context prevented this from occurring. As a result, the historic center was never abandoned but rather the city grew from within. Today, much of the colonial fabric, as well as the palatial residences of the Republican Era, is occupied by individuals living in sub-standard conditions. How can we preserve the existing fabric and introduce new program/densities capable of addressing contemporary needs; and how can we build the new city as both a reflection of our time as well as a coherent addition to Havana’s rich architectural legacy?

To this end, the semester will focus on the design of new housing models for the city center. The studio will be divided into two parts: research and analysis and architectural project. We have selected a typical block within the city center as a case study. The block contains common conditions seen throughout Havana including the degradation of important historic buildings in an advanced state of decay. Many of these structures are referred to as solares, a Cuban term that has become synonymous with substandard housing. Those who live among these ruins do so in inhumane conditions with little access to running water and/or electricity. Alongside these structures are a variety of empty lots, the result of buildings that have finally crumbled due to decades of neglect. New projects on these sites may be viewed as urban/architectural acupuncture, a concentrated and focused effort to insert a new housing stock amidst the deteriorated infrastructure of the existing fabric.

During travel week, we will visit Havana to see the sites first hand and learn from the city’s rich and varied architectural and urban context. We will meet with representatives of the Office of the Historian, local architects, planners, and artists currently living and practicing in Havana. The visit will afford us the opportunity to meander through the streets of the Old City, as well as that of the nineteenth and twentieth century expansions beyond the original fortifications, in an effort to become familiar with that which is culturally resonant about the place.