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The extension of beam ends beyond their structural bearing points implies that the grid system could be infinitely extended, and the voids imply missing volumes, yet to be enclosed. The structure is roughly symmetrical, yet only half has been 'filled in,' implying the potential for future expansion. At Las Ruinas, design thus expresses a notion of rational civilizational progress as an incomplete and ongoing project.

The enclosed volumes mirrored as voids reveal the building as incomplete; and what is a ruin, if not an incomplete work of architecture? The notions of temporality embodied in the design resonate with the politics of Cuba's revolution: the past must be overcome, yet portions will remain to be celebrated, while an unwritten future takes the form of the present's utopian ideal. So: the revolution continues! Today, Las Ruinas stands as an exemplar of Cuban Modernism's ambitious utopian goals, and a keen demonstration of how architecture can both embody a unique historical moment, and express a dynamic and expansive conception of temporality.

Echoes of the past and portents of the future appear throughout Cuba's Modern canon. A fascinating relic of the cold war and space race, Casa de Los Comonautos Antonio Quintana, was constructed as a luxurious beach-side apartment for weary Soviet cosmonauts returning from orbit. The low bar building is raised on piloti, leaving the ground floor completely open; access is from below via two stair cores, also open to the ocean breeze.


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The interior layout is a simple double-loaded corridor scheme, with a central lounge decked out in a nautical theme - boardwalks over raked sand — with modern furniture arrayed on a marble tile floor. The short slab building is placed perpendicular to the shoreline, with the best-appointed suite cantilevered precipitously towards the ocean view, the jutting rectangular form not quite escaping gravity, not quite implying space-station modularity.

One might envision a spacesuit-clad figure staring out to sea, the distant horizon reflected in their silvered visor Yet for all its Modern bona fides , the Casa de los Cosmonautos can't help but retain vestiges of the past; its modular construction is capped with a traditional tile roof. Sandals clothes its modern infrastructure in native garb. The bars and service buildings of the resort are styled as native huts, with concrete columns detailed like wooden poles, supporting thatch roofs.

Nearby, the suites are detailed as stick-built quasi-Victorian, with bright colors offset by crisply-detailed white fences and screened balconies, the apotheosis of Varadero's neo-colonial architecture. Here, Caribbean colonial history is concretized and reenacted through themed architecture. Tourists are cast as colonizers and Cuban staff as natives, as one sociopolitical regime overtakes another.


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Ignoring the retrograde kitsch and problematic social constructs, one might find echoes of Team 10 planning in the elevated walkways of the suite blocks and the extensive network of boardwalks that lead from the suites to the swim-up bar. For better or worse, Sandals and the other Varadero resorts represent the best of greenfield Cuban architecture from the special period to present. The lofty John Portman-style atrium at the Blau Varadero, would not seem out of place in Atlanta or LA, for example, and the other massive structures could be on beaches anywhere.

In recent years, the majority of architectural design effort seems to have been wasted on these resort hotels.

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Moreso than architecture, what makes Varadero screamingly contemporary is the fact that is exists as an exclusionary district, a special 'zone,' or even a prefigurative capitalist bubble in still-socialist Cuba. Until recently, local Cubans were barred from entering the thin peninsula, unless going to work. While this restriction has since been relaxed, few locals have the financial capacity to stay in these resorts as guests, the secure resorts remain worlds onto themselves, and tourists may avoid the nearby towns and villages entirely.

This phenomenon has been termed "tourist apartheid" by geographers Joseph L. Portela, and this "Varadero effect" extends throughout Cuba, as evidenced most visibly by the country's unique dual-currency system, that separates this ostensibly socialist society into two distinct classes, as noted above. Recognizing both massive income disparity and lack of tourist accommodation, the Cuban government in legalized the use of private housing for short-term, temporary rental, on the bed-and-breakfast model.

The downside to the casa system is twofold.

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First, the casa operators compromise familial privacy. Though tropical urbanism does seem to inspire an active superposition of the public and private spheres, by catering to paying guests, residents may lose a degree of privacy the particular of the casa , when they find that a life lived in now-semi-public space is the only economically-viable option. In this roundabout embrace of capitalism as a means to an end, Cuba increasingly resembles the surrounding neo-liberal order in its production of spatial enclaves and social division. Cuba's economy is now reliant on tourism, with foreign direct investment not far behind.

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While Cuba's industrial capacities remain perhaps untapped, the country is nonetheless already inexorably tied to the world economy, despite its command economy. International hotel chains such as Iberostar, Melia, Blau, etc. Nowhere are these intricate global connections more apparent than in Havana Vieja, where UNESCO funding and tourism support the maintenance of a picture-perfect colonial center.

The immaculate squares, fresh pastel arcades gleaming in the tropical sun paint too rosy a picture: Havana Vieja has been curated. Only the most prominent buildings and spaces have been restored to their former glory, and these have an aura of sanitation and control. The fountain in Plaza Vieja, for instance, is surrounded by a new fence, limiting use of the plaza as a gathering space.

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Within the tourist zone, one can safely stumble from one mojito station to the next, harassed only by friendly buskers and touts on good terms with the well-hidden security teams surveilling the district. Tourist Havana is an archipelago, its famous Spanish colonial squares P. Armas, P. San Francisco, P. Vieja, and P. Catedral linked by pedestrian thoroughfares, and closed to automobile traffic.

Around this network, and intersecting it, are the main traffic routes of the city. Beyond the bollards, streets are dark, and one can peer deep into crumbling mansions to glimpse subdivided courtyards by the glow of cathode ray tube, and find chickens and dogs poking through piles of debris and garbage. Leal is widely credited with the ongoing restoration of old Havana, and especially with the ingenious diversion of tourist dollars to the effort. The key innovation is that a significant portion of restoration funding has gone towards the improvement and support of local civic institutions: the schools, churches, and markets that support a lively local community.

Havana's long-term residents continue to reside in the old city, despite the obvious land area limitations and increasing popularity of the area as a global tourist destination. In Havana, the City Historian achieves such vaunted status because the office has effected the preservation of the city's built heritage and its social structures in concert. Architectural design has an essential role in expressing the ideologies of political-economic regimes.

No Particular Place to go

With every work of subversive architecture and with every attempt at an alternative system of organizing society that succumbs to the homogenizing trends of neoliberal hegemony, a possible alternative future is cut off. Individual works of architecture may crumble in ruin, but if we allow the social systems and civilizations that built them to pass into history unmourned or forgotten we risk ignoring their lessons.


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With global homogeneity, and no alternative to the status quo, in architecture as in civil society, we may be left indeed with no particular place to go. Loomis, John A. New York: Princeton Architectural, Scarpaci, Joseph L. Cuban Landscapes: Heritage, Memory, and Place. New York: Guilford, Birkenmaier, Anke. Havana beyond the Ruins: Cultural Mappings after Rodriguez, Eduardo Luis. The Havana Guide: Modern Architecture New York: Princeton Architectural Press, Are you sure you want to block this user and hide all related comments throughout the site?

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