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Style Primer

Colonial

This can refer to anything built while Spain held the island as a colony – every stone laid from Cuba’s conquest by Velázquez in 1511, to its independence from Spain in 1898, is deemed colonial.

Early Architecture

Early 16th century Cuban architecture was dominated by the Spanish need to protect the new colony from piracy, most prominently seen in the fortifications built in Havana and Santiago. The Castillo de la Real Fuerza (Castle of the Royal Force, 1582) in Havana is believed to be the oldest stone fortress in the Americas. It features thick sloping limestone walls, huge 18-ft thick triangular bulwarks at each corner, a moat and drawbridge. Nevertheless it was considered inadequate to the challenge of protecting the city and became the governor’s residence. Its replacement, the cliff-side Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro (1589-1610), was considered virtually impregnable until it was overrun 150 years later by the English during the Seven Years War. Castillo de San Pedro del Morro (1633-93) in Santiago is considered the best-preserved 17th century Spanish military complex in the Caribbean. With an emphasis on protecting the young colony, limited resources were left for private construction, which tended to be simple wooden structures that have long since passed into history.

Mudéjar style

Velasquez’s Santiago residence, Casa de Diego Velázquez built in 1516-1530 still stands and is an example of the Moorish-influenced Mudéjar style typified by ornamental plasterwork and tile, decorated wood ribbed ceilings, intricate grilled windows and airy courtyards. Considered one of the oldest buildings in Cuba, today it houses the Museo de Ambiente Historico Cubano. The earliest aristocratic colonial houses referenced Spanish church style and Mudéjar construction techniques. Mudéjar was a Moorish architectural style popular in southern Spain in the 12th -16th centuries, which blended Spanish, Christian and Arabic influences.

Cuban Regional Colonial Style

Concessions to the tropical Cuban environment such as thick walls, shuttered windows, high doors and windows, courtyards, arcaded galleries, rejas (grilled windows), the postigo (a partial door that could be opened for light or a breeze), patios, upper galleries, double arcades, and balconies all took elements of European 17th and 18th century architecture and made them distinctly Cuban.

Baroque

This richly deocrative style came into its own in the 18th century. Baroque façades emphasize surface decoration over structure, with detailed moldings cornices, spirals, balustrades, stucco shells and fan-shaped stained glass windows, called mediopunto, to protect homes from the sun. Many excellent examples can be found in Old Havana and Trinidad. The Catedral de San Cristóbal in Havana is considered one of the finest expressions of Cuban baroque.

Neoclassical Style

By mid 19th century, neoclassical style, with its emphasis on symmetry and imposing columns, offered an elegant counterpoint to the decorative extravagance of the baroque period. Prime examples are the Terry Tomás Theatre in Cienfuego, the Sauto Theatre in Matanzas and the Palacio de Aldama in Havana.

Electicism, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Modernism

The turn of the 20th century brought a period of architectural eclecticism, combining neo-gothic, baroque, and Moorish style to striking effect in buildings such as the former Presidential Palace (now Museo de la Revolución) in Havana or Palacio de Ville in Cienfuegos.

Cuban art nouveau (originally referred to Modernismo] took a Spanish Catalan bent, incorporating the influence of renowned architect Antoni Gaudí. Enrique Capablanca of the Cuban National Centre of Conservation, Restoration and Museology, describes Cuban art nouveau as employing sculpted animal and human forms, as well as plant motifs, to depict a kind of mythology unique to the island. The Palacio Velasco (1912, Havana) is a prime example of Cuban art nouveau.

By the 1920s, the elegant, eclectic and modern influence of art deco was felt in Cuba. Today some of the finest examples of surviving art deco architecture can be found in Havana. In particular, the award-winning Bacardi Building (1930) offers a spectacular example of symbolic images, repeating patterns and ziggurat form.

The strong vertical and horizontal lines and simplified form of modernism found its expression in Cuba in the 1950s with such buildings as the Habana Libre Hotel (1958) and the Corbussian-influenced Fosca Building, which still provides a wonderful vantage point over the city.

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