[RISD Spring 2012- ARCH2105]

Havana- Reading the City
Mapping Havana through reading Infante's Inferno by Guillermo Cabera Infante

"But there were lights all over Havana, not only for utlity, but for luxury, adorning the Padeo del Prado in particular, and also the Malecon, that prolonged promenade along the coast, where cars sped by, their headlights shining on the asphalt while streetlamps along the sidewalk bathed the wall across the street, a glowing tide in contrast with the invisible waves on the other side. Lights shown everywhere and anywhere, on the streets and sidewalks, over the roofs, even on the trees, lending a radiant beam, a lustrous glow to the most trivial things, making them relevant, giving them a theatrical performance, highlighting a palace that by day would become an ugly, flat, and common building."

"The very rooming house at Monte 822, hidden as it was, inside the annex alley, stashed away under the street portico, whose sign said Maximo Gomez, not Monte, lined with torn rather than Tuscan columns. They arrived Magically."

"This room of ours was located at the entrance of the annex, on the first floor of one of the rooming houses. But to get to it, you had to go up a spiral stair."

"It is curious how like Zulueta, Montserrate got darker as it got closer to the Terminal."

"Our phase at Zulueta 408, more than a season in hell, had been a whole lifetime and was to remain behind like an umbilical cord which, cut off forever, remains in the navel's memory.

Thus, my first real memory of Havana is of this sumptuous staircase, which is dark until you reach the second floor, opening beyond a baroque whirl onto the third floor, into a different, filtered, almost mauve light, and an unexpected sight. Facing me was a long corridor, a narrow tunnel, a hallway like none I had seen before, lined with doors. The doors were always open but you couldn't see the rooms, hidden by curtains leaving open a space above and below.

Time stopped at that vision: going into the house marked Zulueta 408 was a vertical move: I had stepped from childhood into adolescence on a staircase."

The underside of the Havana in Gold model is a telescope to view the tiny gold window inside, where the narrator goes down a street caleed Monte, in pursuit of a girl leaving the cinema. In a perfect coincidence, the support base of this Havana shaped model is a phallic one.

The Havana Project took the programs of an existing hotel: The Sevilla, and reclaimed them in a new site, under new conditions. In this spirit, the chosen site was a place far removed from the bright lights of the Paceo del Prado. Moving from the central cultural life of Havana, down to the low income neighborhood of Atares. Here, the defining structures are the Cristina Train Station, carrying local commuter trains, the Mercado Cuatro Caminos, selling produce and wares, and to the south near the bay, the Castillo Atares: a Spanish colonial fort of the 16th century. Surrounding all sides of the site are 1-4 level tenement houses and stores, in layers of splendid disrepair.

The magnitude of the dimensions of the site fostered an interesting polemic throughout the proposal. Initially drawn to focusing on a corner of mass effect, the final proposal sought to engage the entirety of the gaping wasteland.

Continuous, were loops. In the beginning sketches, a physical loop connecting program upon program, and in the ending proposal, a network of loops connecting people, traffic, buildings, and empty space.

While searching for a cultural history of Havana, I came across a video of Josephine Baker dancing in the film Princess Tam Tam in 1935. In the scene, she is sitting high above a gilded stage, in uncontrollable ecstacy at the music, the cosutmes, and the rhythm of the beat. Eventually, she jumps onto the stage, and becomes the performance.

This scene became my outline.