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Old Havana. Image © Evan Chakroff

Preserving Cuba's History as Modern Developments Rise in Havana



Havana appeals to those who romanticize the idea of a city that seems to be completely frozen in time. The capital’s urban fabric proudly displays its history, as it experienced waves of Spanish, Moorish, and Soviet influence. What really lies beyond the Revolutionary kitsch of vintage Buicks parked in front of colorful, yet crumbling homes, is the deprivation that Cuba has experienced throughout history.


© Evan Chakroff



While other nations have been afforded the chance to have a voice in their own globalization efforts, Cuba represents one of the last places on earth that straddles the line between a Cold War past and the increasing influence of western Capitalism. Havana’s skyline, which for years remained largely intact, is now dotted with cranes as they face yet another wave of invasions- the 21st-century luxury developer.
Cuba currently finds itself poised with economic opportunities that it has not seen in modern times, as it inches out of a government that is not headed by a Castro or any other founders of the revolutionary ideology. Instead, the island nation is tasked with preserving its deeply rooted culture while also introducing itself to outside investment. Playing into its economy that is propped up by a booming tourist industry, even despite its high-tension relationship with the United States, many people want to visit Havana “before it changes.” This attitude downplays both the fact that the Cuban people deserve change, and that change is coming faster than we predict. The goal is to provide resources that can both restore the city’s past while easing it into its future, and prevent the developer dam from bursting with poorly conceived buildings that won’t better serve the country’s needs.


Old Havana. Image © Evan Chakroff


到2019年底,哈瓦那有7家高档酒店正在建设中,还有几家刚刚开业。最新的外国投资业务组合提议将目前被建筑物和公共场所占用的地块夷为平地,以进行旅游部称之为“不同的目的地”的整修,这些提议每年可带来近三百万游客。现在,在老哈瓦那市中心以及Miramar和El Vedado地区都可以看到新建筑。施工补给卡车、被围栏圈起来的区域和大规模的建设已转化为当地的经济来源。

Until recently, most of the architectural projects in Cuba focused on the restoration of Havana’s homes and businesses, two-thirds of which were estimated to be in a deteriorating condition. Attention has now been placed on what happened when the United States gave Cuba a preview into what a post-embargo government might look like, beckoning the country to sell off development rights for a quick dollar in order to create a high-end tourism industry. While some architects are fearful of what might happen when the relationship between the US and Cuba is inevitably repaired, others are optimistic that Cuba is not a money-hungry nation, and that their national pride will save them from greedy economic ambition. The hope is that their appreciation for their history will also save them from a potentially disastrous urban renewal.
By the end of 2019, there were seven upscale hotels under construction in Havana, and a handful more that had just opened. The most recent business portfolio for foreign investment proposed plots currently occupied by buildings and public spaces to be razed or renovated for what the Ministry of Tourism calls “a different destination” in an attempt to increase the nearly three million visitors it brings in annually. Construction is now noticeable both in the OId Havana city center and the more modern areas of Miramar and El Vedado. Supply trucks, fenced-off areas, and large scale renders plaster the sites that have been converted into these economic generators.


Newly constructed Hotel Paseo del Prado. Image via Iberstar Hotels & Resorts

最近开业的两家最受期待的酒店是Paseo del Prado酒店和Manzana Kempinski酒店,两者均面向国际游客服务,其特色包括豪华的客房、酒吧和餐厅以及屋顶游泳池。普拉多大道(Paseo del Prado)没有向它所坐落的历史悠久的街道致敬,与毗邻它的一排排色彩缤纷的古巴房屋相比,显得有些格格不入。然而,Manzana Kempinski酒店则进行了修复工作,对其外墙进行了升级更新,以使古巴的时代精神得以保留。

在旅游业推动修复工作的同时,并非每座历史建筑都可以改建成酒店或精品店。更重要的是,翻新这些建筑物以创造住房、学校和规划的空间,这将使古巴社会受益。哈瓦那旧城的转型速度比旅游区的扩张速度要慢得多。该市的国会大厦在脚手架上放置了近十年,缓慢地铺设了鹅卵石路,为新的公用设施线腾出了空间,而就在Parque中心街对面,一栋以前的办公楼被匆忙地改造成五星级酒店,并成为一个拥有Wi-Fi休息室的休闲胜地,这是岛上最受欢迎的奢侈品。这家酒店旁边还有新的商店,里面摆满了Che Guevarra帽子,Castro海报和其他旅游纪念品,但却是一个古巴人永远不会购物的地方。甚至中国开发商也在寻找适合的商机,将Cuatro Caminos市场改造成购物中心,创造了另一个消费空间,如今,古巴的大多数人口的经济消费能力已经远远超出了这一范围。

Two of the most anticipated hotels that recently opened were the Paseo del Prado Hotel and the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski, both marketed towards international visitors with features that include luxurious rooms, bars and restaurants, and rooftop pools. The Paseo del Prado doesn’t pay homage to the historic street that it sits upon, and stands out like a modernist sore thumb when compared to the rows of colorful Cuban homes that neighbor it. The Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski however, was a restoration effort that upgraded its facade to keep the Cuban zeitgeist alive.
While tourism is driving the restoration efforts, it’s important to note that not every historic building can be converted into a hotel or boutique store. Instead, these buildings need to be refurbished to create space for housing, schools, and programs that will benefit Cuban society. The transformation of Old Havana’s city center has moved at a much slower rate than the tourist quarter has expanded. The city’s Capitol building has been sitting under scaffolding for almost a decade, cobblestone roads are slowly excavated to make room for new utility lines, while just across the street in the Parque Central, a former office building was hastily transformed into a five-star hotel and became a tourist destination filled with Wi-Fi lounges, a sought after luxury on the island. The hotel is also flanked by new stores filled with Che Guevarra hats, Castro posters, and other tourist nick-nacks, signaling a place that no Cuban would ever shop. Even Chinese developers were looking for their own piece of land and recently converted the Cuatro Caminos Market into a shopping mall, yet another space for consumption that is now further beyond the financial reach of the majority of Cuba’s population.


Gran Hotel Manzana Kepinski La Habana located on the Malecon. Image Courtesy of Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana


The Cuban people are hopeful that the policymakers will profit from the other negative examples of market-centric urban development countries, and combine preservationist ideals with strong planning mechanisms that could strike the perfect balance. Havana is on the brink of transformation and as it’s historic fabric is long overdue for rehabilitation, they also enjoy the ability to create their own path forward. While a few of tourism-focused hotels, a shopping mall, and a handful of other in-progress development projects may seem like a premature eyebrow raise, Havana understands that this is their moment to join the rest of the world in a way that remains authentic to who they are without ever becoming another indistinguishable skyline. But with each passing day, and with every new moment of unregulated western influence, the time for preservation seems to be running out.


Streets of Old Havana. Image © Evan Chakroff


Havana Skyline-2017. Image © Evan Chakroff




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