Cuba is a nation caught in a time warp. How many times have we heard that cliché? And since my first visit at the end of 1993, until today, it still largely rings true. However, like that other country that seemed to stop moving forward, Burma, it is changing little step by little step. For good or for bad, you make your own conclusion.
I spent about 9 glorious years of my life living in Havana. The island nation of Cuba is just 90 miles south of Monroe County, Key West, the most southerly point of the United States. And yet this proximity is juxtaposed with 'el bloqueo'; US direct investment began to cease after an economic embargo was enacted on October 19th, 1960. The verbal warfare between Cuba and the United States forced the people of Cuba to become masters of make do and self sufficiency as capital flight and human resource left in dramatic fashion in the days and months after the fall of Batista and rise of Castro. Architecture, motoring design and interiors stopped changing, stopped evolving and remained fixed in time. American modernism or Fifties design became Cuba in the 1960’s, the 1970’s and so on. And so when I walk around Havana I see architecture from world renowned figures like Le Corbusier or Frank Lloyd Wright and if its not them then its an inspiration from such greats.
Nicolás Quintana's work is seen across the island for example. Yet there is of course so much more than just modernism. Rather apt the term used for mid fifties design is when Cuba largely 'stopped' and allowed the rest of the world to evolve and make the mistakes of demolishing gems and scrapping cars and furniture that one can see so beautifully and lovingly cared for, especially in Havana.
By merely writing a few words one cannot do justice to what Cuba has to offer architecturally. However, I was fortunate enough to buy hundreds of furniture designs from the well known and respected Gonzalo Cordoba and sometime, hopefully soon, we will begin bringing those back to life. We will enhance and expand the collection befitting of Cuba and with the advantage of modern day materials.
Until I write again about Cuba I am going to leave you with a link to a beautiful book by Hermes Mallea, a Cuban American, who left his beloved island when he was just five years old and who made numerous return pilgrimages for his project. His book is called 'Great Houses of Havana' covering a hundred or more years of the best of local architecture from Jansen to Neutra. One of these homes is the 1918 gem you see below.
The reason I wanted to show this interior space is because it is the home of HM's British Ambassador to Cuba in Havana and where I was fortunate to visit on many occasions including a one time introduction with Fidel Castro.
This spectacular yet understated swimming pool enclosure and the property itself was designed by John H. Duncan for Pablo Gonzalez de Mendoza.
Written by: Richard M. Brown