By John Pilling, Havana Long Studio Instructor
Sketching, Presenting, Celebrating
Norberto met us at the hotel to guide the morning’s sketching of the ‘Walls’ district that separates La Habana Vieja from Centro Habana. Its avenues and buildings, splendid examples of the gilded age and early 20th century, were built on land once occupied by the city walls and their surrounding glacis. Luis and John selected just a few stops for this area so each of them could be studied carefully. Our first stop was the Parque Central, which is defined by the facades of principal monuments of this era of Havana’s growth and development. Royal palms representing the provinces of Cuba frame a rostrum topped by a statue of Jose Martí. The plaza was designed by the French landscape architect Jean-Claude Forestier as was our next stop, the Paseo del Prado, a remarkable avenue well-known for its beautiful, raised alameda graced by marble benches, terazzo walk, and iron light fixtures.
Norberto worked his magic for us at our next destination, El Palacio de Matrimonios. This building was originally the Casa D’España, one of several social clubs in the district. The Historian’s office had completed a major restoration of the building recently, including the spectacular, top-floor, ballroom. “May we see the ballroom, Norberto?” I ask. “I’ll check.” We all watch as Norberto begins his discussion with the woman in charge of the building. The initial response is an emphatic “No,” followed by detailed explanation on her part to confirm the impossibility of visiting the space. Norberto counters with several cogent arguments, including the work done with the assistance of the historian’s office as well as the importance of the visiting architecture students. Ten minutes’ more talking results in our mounting the stairs with the manager admonishing that we mustn’t stay too long (Hooray for Norberto!).
The only down side to seeing the ball room was that it was completely closed up and really, really hot. Therefore our concluding stop at the rooftop restauruant in the Hotel Sevilla tower was welcome. Its windows were open, and the breeze coming off the Straits of Florida was almost like air conditioning.
The studio used its lunch break to get ready for the meeting with Professors Gina Rey Phd and Jaime Rodriguez at the Colegio Unversitaria San Geronimo in La Habana Vieja. This new college has been created under the auspices of the Office of the Historian. Its four programs are about historic resources, including buildings and urban fabric. There are parallels between the culture of the BAC and San Geronimo. Classes are conducted at night there, because students work outside of school during the day. Dr. Rey specializes in urban studies, and Prof. Rodriguez’s expertise is in historic building systems. John has worked with both of them on several urban design charrettes in Havana. The professors welcomed us to a classroom equipped with a projector and computer so students could present the research work they had done before the trip. Professors Rey and Rodriguez gave useful feedback to each presenter on their ideas. We also discussed viable building technologies for the proposed ferry terminal and marketplace. It was a really useful afternoon.
After our class at San Geronimo it was time to get back to the hotel to get ready for the big party at the Schools of Art. John plead his age and infirmity as an excuse for skipping the party, but everyone else was totally up for it. You’ll have to ask Luis and the rest of the Longstudieros in person what happened.