The Houses of Old Cuba


The Houses of Old Cuba
Llilian Llanes. Photography by Jean-Luc Laguarigue
2008, Thames & Hudson
199 pages, 168 plates

FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT, the greatest American architect ever, called architecture “the mother art” without which “we have no soul of our own civilisation”.

This carefully researched journey through Cuba’s architectural history gives as rich an insight into the Caribbean island’s soul as it does the origins of its balustrades, louvred doors and enclosed Hispanic courtyards.

While much of the feel of old Havana, in particular, is colonial – which is of great interest to the legions of tourists now flocking to this World Heritage site – Llilian Llanes has worked hard to present a balanced survey of building styles on the island.

There is, for example, detailed analysis of the bohíos – cabins – in Baracoa and peasant homes in Trinidad alongside that of more striking buildings such as the Casa del Conde de la Reunión, home to one of the island’s first slave traders.

Wooden shutters and grilles, Spanish doorways and façades, pitched and tiled roofs feature as prominently among the images as some of the interior fittings and furniture, from wrought-iron bedsteads to tinajeros or water-filters.

This is, as it says it is, an analysis of architecture of old Cuba, and ignores developments and building styles of the 20th century and hence anything to do with the Revolution, but it nonetheless captures what Llanes describes as the Cubans’ “indomitable will to create an identity of their own” with authority and passion. – GJ