2016 World Monuments Watch
Havana’s district of El Vedado features some of the best examples of early and mid-twentieth century architecture and urban planning in Cuba, including buildings in the neoclassical, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco styles, as well as works of the Modern movement. The neighborhood was initially developed in the second half of the nineteenth century, harmoniously laying down tree-lined streets and avenues to define an urban grid punctuated with green areas. It developed slowly at the beginning, but after 1915 the influx of wealthy residents to the area resulted in the construction of eclectic mansions. El Vedado contains many beloved landmarks like the Hotel Nacional, Universidad de la Habana, El Principe and La Chorrera forts, Colón Cemetery, and the National Zoo. Significant works of mid-century modern architecture include the Parque de los Mártires Universitarios, designed by Mario Coyula, the Pabellón Cuba, designed by Juan Campos and Lorenzo Medrano, the Parque Deportivo Jose Martí, designed by Octavio Buigas, and many more. While Old Havana is known for its colonial architecture, El Vedado would become the heart of modern Havana, accessible to all socioeconomic groups.
Although many individual monuments and buildings in El Vedado have been preserved, much of its historic fabric continues to deteriorate at an alarming rate due to lack of investment, weak regulations, and inappropriate alterations. In light of the recent relaxation of commercial and trade restrictions on Cuba by the United States of America, inclusion on the 2016 World Monuments Watch highlights the opportunity to support new planning that is timely and appropriate for the historic character of the neighborhood.
Growing out of the concerns expressed for the rapid changes in Havana, WMF and Friends of Havana, alongside local planners, policymakers and preservation professionals organized a conference in February 2017. The conference, Hablemos De La Habana (Let’s Talk About Havana) saw more than fifty professionals from Cuba, the United States, and several other countries begin a collaborative process intended to talk about the challenges of cultural heritage preservation in the wake of economic pressures, transportation needs, waterfront development, and how other cities have tackled these challenges—for better or worse. The conference proceedings on Havana’s future development will be published in late 2017.