F12 Long Studio to Cuba :: Day 2

By John Pilling, Havana Long Studio Instructor

Saturday, 09/22/2012
Research and Good Fortune for BAC Longstudieros
Our first full day in La Habana devoted itself to a detailed study of the project site in Regla.  Regla is one of fifteen municipalities in the City and Province of Havana. Although the entire municipality of Regla occupies most of the south and east sides of the harbor, the project site for the studio lies in the very center of the harbor at the Punta Santa Catalina. The concept being explored by the Longstudio in 2012 (both spring and fall) is Syncretism in Cuban Architecture. The project being used to study this concept this fall is a terminal for the passenger ferry, “Lanchita de Regla,” combined with a marketplace for selling locally grown food and housing small scale businesses.

Since the project is about the ferry and the harbor, our hosts at the San Cristóbal agency arranged for us to take the ride on the Lanchita from La Habana Vieja to Regla. Upon arrival we walked up to La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Regla, which was packed and busy with Masses and Christenings.

The assistant director of the Museum of Regla and her colleague met us at the church. She conveyed the regrets of the museum director, who was unable to join us because of an illness (Luis and John had met the director on two occasions on the last Longstudio trip). The assistant director explained the origins of Regla and its church, which began as an Ermíta in the 16th century. The Ermíta and subsequent church predate the settlement of the town of Regla. That is to say, the town grew up around the church, not vice versa.

The image of the Señora on the church’s altar is from Spain and is said to have been made in the first millennium of Christianity. Since her image survived a stormy trip across the Straights of Gibraltar centuries ago, Nuestra Señora de Regla is a patron of seafarers. La Señora de Regla is one of the most important saints of Cuba; some say second only to the patron saint of Cuba, La Caridad de Cobre. She is syncretized with the Yoruba Orisha, Yemayá, who governs the sea. The existing church dates from the early 19th century, and, in the opinion of Mario Coyula, has one of the finest Neoclassical facades in La Habana.

We walked from the church up to the Museum of the Municipality of Regla to take a look at some examples of syncretism in religion. Fortunately for us, the assistant director’s expertise includes the syncretic religions of Cuba (Santería, Palo Monte, and Sociedad Abakuá), and her associate is a Santéro. The two of them used the Museum’s exhibits and collections to explain the qualities, nuances, and artifacts of these three faiths.  At the conclusion of the presentation, we sat down at the shaded end of the museum’s patio for the BAC presentation to its staff.

Good news for both the Municipality of Regla and BAC Longstudieros S12- Exhibition of their work in Havana!
During the BAC’s previous visit to the Museum in the spring of 2012, we’d explained that we were studying proposals for terminals for the Lanchita on Havana Harbor. At that time, the Regla Museum’s director had asked us to bring completed work to show to them when we returned. Spring 2012 Longstudieros Derek Camara, Sam Coats, and Ruthie Kuhlman had chosen Regla for their project site. At Luis’ request, all three of them gave us detailed copies of their proposals. Luis made copies of each of these proposals and carried them to La Habana (he even spent extra time in Customs inspection explaining what he was importing to Cuba!). Luis presented this scrutinized work to the assistant director and her colleague.  The two museum staff members thanked Luis at the end of his presentation, and the assistant director asked if the Museum could keep the materials to exhibit in their galleries.  She told us they also exhibit proposals from students of the School of Architecture at CUJAE. She also asked Luis to bring the work of the current set of Longstudieros visting the museum on the BAC’s next trip to Havana, so it could be exhibited, too. Luis and John promised that they would find a way to get the fall 2012 work to La Habana.

Very nice to know that that work of BAC students is exhibited in La Habana and, in particular, in the community of Regla.

We had a lunch break at the Plaza Mayor of Regla, and then we went to Regla’s cemetery.  Both Luis and John believe that you cannot understand life in Latin American countries without experiencing their people’s view of death. Regla’s cemetery is fairly large, and it has the remains of some prominent Santéros. We concluded the Regla part of the day with several hour’s study of the project site. Longstudieros sketched site elements and mapped important characteristics.