In October, Cuban architect and urban planner Julio César Pérez Hernández gave a lecture, “Inside Cuba: In Praise of Splendor and Excellence Along the 19th and 20th Century.”
Tracing Cuba’s architectural history, Pérez described the colonial urbanism brought by the Spanish crown, leading to a chain of stone fortresses crafted from local materials. In keeping with Spanish tradition, the urban landscape of Havana then developed in a highly organized system of squares, each dedicated to specific functions (religious, military, and commercial, among others). The Moorish style settled in Havana, eventually prompting more wood building and opulent courtyards. This building typology was in place until the 19th century.
The 20th century coalesced a unique body of modern architecture, a synthesis between international and local traditions that blended the old and the new in ways specific to Cuba. The 1920s through the 1970s marked Cuba’s cultural renaissance. In the 1940s Cuba became a favorite destination for the elite of international architects such as Mies Van der Rohe, Richard Neutra, Josep Lluis Sert, Philip Johnson and Franco Albini, among others.
Pérez now works to maintain Cuba’s architectural legacy. He recently led a team of Cuban architects in devising a master plan for 21st century Havana aimed at preserving the city’s urban tradition. From 2001-2002 he was a Loeb Fellow at Harvard University. In addition to his recent book, Inside Cuba (2006), he has published widely on the architectural culture of Cuba.