PHOTO ESSAY | Havana, Cuba | Part 2

PHOTO ESSAY | Havana, Cuba | Part 2
Photographs by Concrete Blonde

Part 2 of a brief photographic essay of architecture and urban space in Havana, Cuba courtesy of Concrete Blonde. Again, the urban vocabulary of Havana is remarkably consistent: the street life of urban balconies, the use of balcony gardens in softening the urban streetscape, rooftop terraces, abundant use of urban sidewalk arcades, and the use of color.

Looking over a Havana neighborhood through an open window with the harbor in the distance.
Havana street life above and below, courtesy of a ground-level retail shop and second floor balconies.
A narrow shopping street in Havana, Cuba.
A lavishly-vegetated garden in the courtyard of a public building in Havana, Cuba.
Vegetation hanging from a second floor balcony soften the hard edges of the urban streetscape in Havana, Cuba.
Upper-level balconies introduce additional street constitution and casual surveillance of the street in the urban environment of Havana, Cuba.
Balconies and sidewalk arcades defining the street vocabulary of Havana, Cuba.
A street space well-used by pedestrians in Havana, Cuba.
A narrow street width in Havana, Cuba.
Finally, a light well made of empty bottles at a local restaurant in Havana, Cuba; included here only because it’s so ingeniously cool.
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PHOTO ESSAY | Havana, Cuba | Part 1

PHOTO ESSAY | Havana, Cuba | Part 1
Photographs by Concrete Blonde

Part 1 of a brief photographic essay of architecture and urban space in Havana, Cuba courtesy of Concrete Blonde. In terms of urbanism, the most interesting aspects of these photographs are: the street life of urban balconies, the use of balcony gardens in softening the urban streetscape, rooftop terraces, abundant use of urban sidewalk arcades, and the use of color. In terms of political ideology, it seems symbolic that many of the cars (most likely of origin in Eastern Europe) and best architecture (at least, in terms of design if not actual age) predates the Communist Revolution lead by Fidel Castro in 1959; make of that what you will. However, the result is an urban treasure trove awaiting re-discovery and historic rehabilitation.

Havana streetscape showing sidewalk arcades and second-level balconies.
Rooftop terraces in Havana, Cuba.
Heavily-vegetated balconies in Havana, Cuba.
From this perspective, notice how the line of sight sneaks pass the corner of buildings to continue along the space of the street. Architects and planners ignore such nuances of the urban pattern at their peril.
Fantastic mural incorporated into the design of an otherwise mundane Modern building.
Contemporary pedestrian plaza, probably a conversion of an old tram/rail line running down the middle of the street. Though beautifully done, notice how empty the plaza appears during the middle of the day due to the generous street width, especially in comparison to the following photo of a heavily-populated street in Havana with a narrower street width.
A typical street scene in Havana, Cuba.
Churchyard plaza in Havana, Cuba.
Urban balconies defining the facade of an early twentieth century (1930s?) building in Havana, Cuba.
Sidewalk arcades, balconies, and rooftop terraces on another street in Havana, Cuba.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Havana, Cuba Photographic Essay coming soon on The Outlaw Urbanist!

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Urban Patterns | Havana, Cuba

“Sent to spy on a Cuban talent show, First stop- Havana au go-go,
I used to make a living, man, Pickin’ the banana, Hooray for Havana!”
Havana Affair, The Ramones

Urban Patterns | Havana, Cuba
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Havana is the capital city, major port, and leading commercial center of Cuba. The city proper has a population of 2.1 million inhabitants and it spans a total of 728 square kilometers (281 square miles), making it the largest city by area, most populous city, and third largest metropolitan area in the Caribbean region. Havana lies on the northern coast of Cuba, south of the Florida Keys, where the Gulf of Mexico joins the Caribbean. The city extends mostly westward and southward from the bay, which is entered through a narrow inlet and divides into three main harbors: Marimelena, Guanabacoa, and Atarés. Havana was founded by the Spanish in the 16th century and, due to its strategic location, served as a springboard for the Spanish conquest of South America, becoming a stopping point for treasure-laden Spanish Galleons on the crossing between the New World and Old World. King Philip II of Spain granted Havana the title of City in 1592. Walls and forts were built to protect the old city. Contemporary Havana can essentially be described as three cities in one: Old Havana, Vedado, and the newer suburban districts. Old Havana, with its narrow streets and overhanging balconies, is the traditional center of Havana’s commerce, industry, and entertainment as well as being a residential area. To the north and west a newer section – centered on the uptown area known as Vedado – has become the rival of Old Havana for commercial activity and nightlife. Centro Habana, sometimes described as part of Vedado, is mainly a shopping district that lies between Vedado and Old Havana. Chinatown and the Real Fabrica de Tabacos Partagás, one of Cuba’s oldest cigar factories, is located in the area. A third Havana is that of the more affluent residential and industrial districts that spread out mostly to the west. Among these is Marianao, one of the newer parts of the city, dating mainly from the 1920s (Source: Wikipedia).

Satellite view of Havana, Cuba from 10 km (Source: Google Earth, 2013; Data SIO, NOAA, US Navy, NGA, GEBCO; TerraMetrics © 2013 and DigitalGlobe © 2013).

The urban pattern of Havana, Cuba can be best described as a patchwork of regular and regular-like grids that vary in scale in terms of the length and width of streets and block sizes. Most streets in Havana can be fairly described as straight. Their lengths tend to vary based on the local grid pattern and whether any particular street is carried through and embedded within another adjacent grid or terminates at the edges of its own grid. In this sense, the urban pattern of Havana appears remarkably similar to that of Athens, Greece, which is also composed of a patchwork of small-scale (mostly) regular grids. There appears to be the pattern of scale in the urban grid related to the age of a local area, forming a somewhat radial pattern from the harbor to the southerly and (more so) westerly direction. For example, Old Havana has the smallest scale regular-like grid in the city (smaller blocks, shorter streets) though the overall geometric order of the urban grid in this area is less consistent than in younger areas of the city. For example, contrast this with the increase in scale of the regular grid in the Vedado area to the west of Old Havana or the generous scale of block sizes, street lengths and widths in the highly geometrical grid of Marianao area along a different cardinal alignment in relation to the shoreline of the coast to the extreme west (partially visible at the left edge of the above satellite image).

(Updated: July 12, 2017)

Urban Patterns is a series of posts from The Outlaw Urbanist presenting interesting examples of terrestrial patterns shaped by human intervention in the urban landscape over time.

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More Poor Richard | Part 10

More Poor Richard, Part 10
by Mark David Major, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

Courteous Reader,

I attempted to win your favor when I wrote my first Almanac for Architects and Planners, in the name of the public good and professional betterment, by way of earning some profit and a wife. I am gratified by your expression of encouragement for my tireless efforts dedicated to these aims. Alas, my circumstances still find me exceedingly poor and, unluckily, exceedingly wifeless. I am required to earn some profit to address both problems whilst now addressing a third, namely testing the proposition that insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” To satisfy my own particular brand of insanity, I have written more proverbs and whimsical sayings for your benefit and, hopefully, my own.

As before on The Outlaw Urbanist, I write this new Almanac in increments of ten, according to the dictates of Moses and the Almighty. However, once published as an Almanac for Architects and Planners, the proverbs and witticisms were gathered into a number equal to the days of the week, after being reliably informed that both seven and ten are sacred numbers. My desired requirement for a wife is sufficient motive to write this new Almanac in the hope it will find your favor and retweets as a means of demonstrating the usefulness of my continued efforts but also your charity to this sane Friend and poor Servant,


On Architecture and Cities

91.       Excessive use of beige represents an irrational fear of white.

92.       A skyscraper isn’t any more a penis than a basement is a vagina.

93.       The horizontal brevity of a skyscaper is inversely proportional to its vertical repetitiveness.

94.       Skyscraper (skí·skrãp·ər) To wear down the heavens without regard by forceful strokes of an edged or rough building.

95.       Too often, skyscapers are not about playing well with others but about playing excessively with yourself.

96.       Urban circle jerk: a tradition in which architects, usually men, design unrelated skyscapers in close proximity to one another

97.       Suburban circle jerk: the same as an “urban circle jerk” but with only smaller… er, buildings.

98.       Design is in the details, meaning in the whole.

99.       Urban planning suffers from a deficiency of heroes and an excess of sidekicks.

100.     Planning a great city is heroic. Dare to be a hero.

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On Space | The Structural City

On Space | The Structural City
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

The spatial experience of the city is a child’s playground of structures, of a faraway multitude and its near-invariants, a beingness trivial and noble, earthy in its dimensions but astral in meaning. The foreground is composed as the background is configured, imposed by the actions of local actors but emerging on a global stage of meaning and consequence. We are its actors and the playwright, telling the story and bringing it to life for an audience that is ourselves, as if performance could thrive across a mirror of timeless depth and perception, an infinite recursion writ large and whispered softly. The city is a presentation – and representation – of our best and worst selves, of our past and our future, denoting significance in the moment of the present, the here and now of our lives, of the everyday errands of individual importance but (seemingly) societal inconsequentiality. We think, therefore we are but also we move, here we were and will be. These abstract and material constructions of the city reach for the horizon and to the sky, never attaining either but embedding the object with a purpose, with a meaning, and with a question that simultaneously transcends and surrenders to the entities populating the streets, spaces, and buildings of the city. It is transcendence and capitulation to the physical and the spatial, to the kinetic energy of movement and the static inertia of place, to the functioning of the urban object, that at once determines and allows its formation and articulation.

It is an entity that births and devours itself, this Urban Ouroboros, forming protective walls against unseen intruders and unknown dangers. We are the beginning of our story, its past prologue. We are at the center of our story, its extant climax. We are the edge of our story, its future denouement. But it is not the genesis, neither the center nor even the edge that carries the value of our actions. It is the path lying in-between, from where to here to there, from the mere act of marking a path in the landscape to the volatile core of our beingness in the city, and further to the tranquil border that defines the state of being within or without. The grid is the thing. The grid is its genesis, it generates and swathes, offering a translucent skin, which reveals the heart and muscle, pulse and rhythm of the city. Its skin is spelled out in the superordination of geometries both great and small, widths of mysteriously known paths, lengths of promising unspoken journeys, and rigid alignments of mass and light. Hierarchies are simply defined, and structures are mystically revealed in the body of the city; a city of collective memory, of shared purpose, and of forgotten desires that we carry along with us on the path. It is achieved with frightening efficiency, which we consciously retreat from, to our own detriment, yet cannot deny, to our own blessing. The dynamics of the city rise and fall with our intentions, with our mistakes, and with our unending beauty in the body of the collective. Its effects are systematic across and embedded within body and mind, perpetuating the rapid spread of malignancies and their antidote. A city is an object of cosmic imagination grounded in a foundation of our earthly desires and guttural sins. It all these things, and more… much more.

On Space is a regular series of philosophical posts from The Outlaw Urbanist. These short articles (usually about 500 words) are in draft form so ideas, suggestions, thoughts and constructive criticism are welcome.

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