Escuela Nacional Cubana de Ballet No. 9, Havana, Cuba, 2017.
Chromogenic Print. Edition of 3: ​​​​​​​36” x 24”
A marble and plaster staircase on the northern end leads guests toward the ornate gilded ceiling. This Neoclassical building was once a private mansion, a display of wealth and cultured taste. Now the building is foundational for shaping culture itself.
The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, Building 3.4 (La Habana Vieja), Havana, Cuba, 2017.
Chromogenic Print. Edition of 3: ​​​​​​​24” x 36”
On the second floor of an Old Havana building, a grand cavernous space is empty of traces of its function. It is sublime, uncanny, and a canvas for imagined futures that both may and may never happen.
The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, Building 2.4 (Calle Amargura), Havana, Cuba, 2017.
Chromogenic Print. Edition of 3: ​​​​​​​24” x 36”
What strikes me most powerfully: These were beautiful buildings, built of beautiful material and with a sensitive aesthetic eye. Their beauty lasts even through decay, not because of decay. Another word for this is romance.
The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, Building 1.17 (Malecón), Havana, Cuba, 2017.
Chromogenic Print. Edition of 3: ​​​​​​​24” x 36”
A boy who lives in a decrepit building along the Malécon gives a paid tour, delicately holding my fingers when we climb or descend the marble staircases crumbling into nothing but precarious toeholds.
The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, Building 7.2 (Malecón), Havana, Cuba, 2017.
Chromogenic Print. Edition of 3: ​​​​​​​36” x 24”
Inside these rotting structures of Havana, including ones with missing walls, pitted floors, and ceilings open to the elements, communities live. They play music, they laugh here. Kids play. When I climb to the second floor of the building once decorated throughout with mosaic-paintings of Venice, a young boy calls into an apartment. Children pour out. They dance, they pose, they scream and giggle. We have a mini shoot. They know their moves. The ways of Pop are an international language.
The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, #5 (San Lazaro), Havana, Cuba, 2017.
Chromogenic Print. Edition of 3: 36” x 24”
Buildings crumble every day in Havana, with most left standing as-is. What appears, and is, ruined, however, fuels infrastructure recycling in a time of limited physical resources. People from the neighborhood, and from outside it, come in when a building is on the edge of collapse. They strip the premises right down to sheering off the face. What is left hovers between dilapidation and a state of having been cleansed. It is frighteningly charming to an eye groomed in neoclassical ruin paintings of Pompeii and other mythic sites.
The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, #3 (Malecón), Havana, Cuba, 2017.
Chromogenic Print. Edition of 3: 36” x 24”
This plot of land is one of the few spots in the old city replete with unauthorized trash. It’s a sight that feels portent in Havana, where people normally display communal pride in a commitment to cleanliness in all places. That this plot occupies desirable real estate right on the Malecón, the famed ocean-front boulevard, seems relevant; it is here that the tenants of crumbling buildings feel abjectly abandoned by their government.
The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, #1 (Plaza Vieja), Havana, Cuba, 2017.
Chromogenic Print. Edition of 3: 36” x 24”
An ornate landmark façade dominates a collection of bourgeois restaurants, cafés, and shops in the Plaza Vieja. Its front windows open to the sky behind, the interior and back walls knocked out in the tradition of developers gutting structures in districts enticing to tourists. Usually in Havana these buildings are deeply decayed, even rotting; when renewed, they will lodge none of their old inhabitants, whether familial or commercial.
The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, #20 (Calle O'Reilly), Havana, Cuba, 2017.
Chromogenic Print. Edition of 3: 36” x 24”
In Old Havana, everyday existence (Life) and ever-growing tourism (Art) commingle.
The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, #17 (San Lazaro), Havana, Cuba, 2017.
Chromogenic Print. Edition of 3: 36” x 24”
Central Havana is awash in entrepreneurs, especially the proprietors and proprietresses of casas particulaires, state-sanctioned (so taxed) guesthouses for tourists. With this income, homeowners can renovate and develop new spaces—like my own host is doing, building a self-contained apartment within his building. These restored, often freshly plastered and painted, structures remain contiguous with the elements of ruin, sometimes even ruins of a neoclassical origin aesthetically, like here on the right-hand edge of the building. A broken arch decorated with classical designs leads to a back alley and doorways out of sight.
The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, #12 (Calle Manrique), Havana, Cuba, 2017.
Chromogenic Print. Edition of 3: ​​​​​​​ 24” x 36”
A classic American car pulls off the Malecón to help out another American classic. The men—always men—pull themselves out and set to work.
The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, #33 (Malecón), Havana, Cuba, 2017.
Chromogenic Print. Edition of 3: ​​​​​​​ 24” x 36”
A storm surges against the Malecón. It is this sea water, as much as time and neglect, that have brought the mansions opposite to their current state of ruin.
The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, Building 2.13 (Calle Amargura), Havana, Cuba, 2017.
Abandoned by the government—this is how persons in this building, like the persons in other buildings, describe themselves and their residences. Everyday life will continue until someone arrives to buy the property. No one says where they will go next.
The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, Building 2.14 (Calle Amargura), Havana, Cuba, 2017.
Time and again, the beauty and regality of Cuba overwhelmed me, even when framed by the detritus of contemporary times.
The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, Building 3.5 (La Habana Vieja), Havana, Cuba, 2017.
In neo-classical ruin paintings, the bathing spring often abuts the beautiful architectural remnant.
Escuela Nacional Cubana de Ballet No. 12, Havana, Cuba, 2017.
In the shadowy underbelly of a staircase, the memory of an elegant bourgeois past survives.
The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, #11 (Calle Lagunas), Havana, Cuba, 2017.
The proletariat neighborhood of Central Havana experiences both government-sponsored infrastructure development and gentrification. Casas particulaires appear everywhere.
The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development #34 (Centro Habana), Havana, Cuba, 2017.
Promise.
The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, #21 (Calle Galiano), Havana, Cuba, 2017.
A woman peers into the used furniture shop. Having explored the interiors of broken-down buildings across Central and Old Havana, I question where these pieces of noble furniture come from. Who owned them? Who will buy them? Later, when riding a cab to a dinner, I will ride through neighborhoods composed of homes and mansions so grand, luminous, and decorated, I think immediately of historic city-center mansions across the American South. I caution myself: The topic of Havana and its development is not monolithic.
The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, #37 (Calle Galiano), Havana, Cuba, 2017.
The proprietor of a gun range sits beneath a collection of printed materials. Among the photographs and clippings is an architectural print. The modern, sweeping lines of the skyscraper are as potently utopic as the image of a smiling Fidel.
The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, #13 (Calle Obispo), Havana, Cuba, 2017.
At all hours, the pedestrian thoroughfare of Calle Obispo is thick with tourists. For a long while, this Cubana stands at the edge of the sidewalk, biting her nails, listing, watching.
The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, #40 (Calle Concordia), Havana, Cuba, 2017.
Sunday morning promenade in Havana.
The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, #41 (San Lazaro), Havana, Cuba, 2017.
Slogans reaffirming the Revolution detail walls across Havana. I am more captivated, however, by another form of comrade and comradery.
The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, Building 5.1 (Callejon de Hamel), Havana, Cuba, 2017.
When searching for a bakery around Callejno de Hamel, the public thoroughfare of Santería, I meet a man who swiftly offers a tour of his building, the roof of which looks out over the entire beautiful, haunting city.
The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, Building 1.22 (Malecón), Havana, Cuba, 2017.
The edges of broken marble steps dip toward cisterns positioned floors below. A frieze of windows displays objects, but not people. This is an unusual omission in Havana, where glass always gives way to visible people. I discovered Havana to be an open, very public society. Yet here, nothing stirs. I know people live here because a man opened and closed a heavy wooden door nearby, but otherwise it seems impossible that a building this dilapidated can have even squatters. I am wrong.
The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, Building 10.1 (Malecón), Havana, Cuba, 2017.
A hand-crafted lamp of the Eiffel Tower. Paris is where this artist, living in a dilapidated mansion on the Malecón, dreams of being.