The Havana Guide
by Eduardo Luis Rodríguez
Princeton Architectural Press, 2000
Paperback | 5-1/2 x 9 inches | 263 pages | English | ISBN: 9781568982106 | $29.95
The first half of the twentieth century was a culturally rich era for Cuba, a time in which the architects of the Modern Movement sought to define an identity for this Caribbean nation. However, within a few years after the revolution of 1959, design ideology became allied with the mass-production aesthetic promoted by the Soviets, and many Cuban architects fled to seek creative and political freedom abroad. The Havana Guide is the first to recognize the enormous importance of Cuba's modern architecture. It features over 200 structures, including hotels, churches, theaters, social clubs, and private residences. Street maps for all neighborhoods as well as archival and contemporary photographs supplement the texts. Also included is a history of modern architecture in Cuba. This is an essential source book of modern architecture for travelers and architects alike.
Eduardo Luis Rodríguez is an architect and editor-in-chief of the architecture journal, Arquitectura Cuba.
By definition, guidebooks serve as aids to travel, ideally used to navigate a foreign city or other locale in person and look at buildings, particularly in the case of architectural travel guides, and other places while there. What about travel guides to places one will never visit? What is their purpose? This question arises with the two-volume Architectural and Cultural Guide Pyongyang, which I called in my review "a guidebook to a place that most people cannot or would not visit anytime soon," as well as Eduardo Luis Rodríguez's The Havana Guide, which I mentioned a couple of days ago in the context of Cuban Modernism: Mid-Century Architecture 1940–1970. Although travel to Cuba is not as restrictive as North Korea, for someone wanting to visit Cuba from the United States tourism is not an acceptable reason; they must be going for educational, religious, journalism, humanitarian, or another acceptable category. I have as slim a chance in going to Havana as Pyongyang anytime in my life.
To answer the question of the purpose of guidebooks about places one will never see, they offer an alternative way of seeing them: one formed by propaganda and outside scholarship in the case of Architectural and Cultural Guide Pyongyang; and an expert, historical glance at a place of remarkable, if overlooked, modern architecture in the case of The Havana Guide: Modern Architecture, 1925-1965. As I mentioned in my review of Cuban Modernism, I picked up The Havana Guide when I was writing 100 Years, 100 Buildings, since my year-by-year survey of modern and contemporary architecture includes one building in Cuba: Manuel Copado's Solimar apartment building in Havana, built in 1944. (The combination of year-by-year format based on completion date and the neutrality of Latin American countries during World War II meant many of the buildings in the mid-1940s were found south of the United States.) Copado's building, which I was not familiar with before researching my book, graces the cover of The Havana Guide. (Its instances in the book, plus those of Max Borges Recio's Club Náutico, which is on the cover of Cuban Modernism, are below, crudely photographed by me with my phone.)
Following an introduction that gives a brief but valuable historical overview of Cuban architecture in the 40-year period covered by the book, the author presents dozens — if not hundreds — of buildings through fifteen "territories" of his creation. Within each territorial section are more-official districts that are numbered to define the organization of the buildings on maps provided for each district. One could feasibly use the geographical organization of the book to drive a Z-shaped path across Havana, but the author admits about half of the buildings in the book are private houses. As such readers will see more of those projects in the book, through photos and occasional drawings, than in person: sounds like another argument for having this book about a place I most likely will never visit.