Babalú Exclusive – Havana: The New Art of Making Ruins (Part 2 of 6)

The second installment in a new, six part series written exclusively for Babalú by Cuban American engineer, Humberto (Bert) Corzo (Part 1):

Havana: The New Art of Making Ruins – Part 2 of 6

By Humberto (Bert) Corzo

The writer Antonio Ponte, the “ruinologist”, theorizing on the concept of ruins, explains that the city of Havana is falling apart due to the complicity of the regime that does not take the necessary measures to prevent it, and the impotence of the people who do not have the resources to avoid it.

In one of the best scenes of the documentary, which supports Ponte’s theory, the camera travels slowly through the streets, filming the buildings facades while playing the Adagio of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, attempting to draw parallels with Death in Venice, Luchino Visconti film, who chose this music, and the Cuban capital. In reality it looks more like a scene of Germany Year Zero, Rossellini’s movie, you feel a burning desire of screaming.
Havana street in 1955
Same street nowadays

In metropolitan Havana there are 94 neiborghoods with unsanitary living conditions and around 79,000 rundown tenement buildings. The regime census data estimate that 400,000 houses are without electricity. The Cuban population with access to household potable water connection is only74%, based on estimates by the Pan American Health Organization. Nearly two million people, mostly in Havana, are afflicted with water shortage. Many families have installed rooftop water tanks to capture water, when it is available, and save it for other times when the supply is cut off. Many families depend on water trucks for the supply of drinking water, using buckets and bottles to gather it.

The Castroit monarchical tyranny has created a housing crisis of impressive proportions, and doesn’t have the means to solve it. Buildings along the island keep collapsing in large numbers, an average of 230 buildings collapse every year in the city of Havana alone, causing displacement and death.

The construction of dwellings, around 35,000 units annually, not only aren’t enough to solve the housing deficit, but not even for replacing the losses by diverse causes. No signs of improvement are seeing in the future for the housing problem under the Castroit regime.

The 1953 census reported 1.257 million housing units in existence. By 1958 the housing units in existence were estimated at 1.764 million (Claes Brundenius: Economic Growth, Basic, Needs and Income Distribution in Revolutionary Cuba, University of Lund, Malmo, Research Policy Institute; 1981). From 1953 to 1958 about 500,000 houses were built, an average of 83,300 units a year, more than the estimate of 50,000 new homes per year required to meet the population growth. This was a remarkable achievement.

The Barrio Residencial Obrero (Residential Workers Neiborghood) in Luyanó, a low cost housing project, was started in 1945 during the presidency of Dr. Ramón Grau San Martín, and by 1948 about 700 houses were built. These houses remained unoccupied until 1952, when the government of General Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar refurbished and delivered them to the people with low monthly payments and long term amortization. Another 180 new houses and two 4 story apartment buildings with 64 units each were built, and 10 other were under construction at the end of 1958. In addition a school center, a home for seniors and a nursery were also built. During the period 1952-58, similar housing projects were built in the provincial capitals: Calero in Pinar del Río, Peñas Altas in Matanzas, Manuelita in Santa Clara, Garrido in Camagüey and Alturas de Vista Alegre in Santiago de Cuba. These low-cost housing projects were of modern and functional design. Video of the Barrio Obrero in Luyanó under construction in the 1950s:


Humberto (Bert) Corzo was born in Cuba. In 1962 he graduated from University of Havana with a degree in Civil Engineering. Since coming to the United States in 1969, he established his residence in Los Angeles, California, where in 1972 he obtained the registration as a Professional Engineer. He has over forty five years of experience in the field of Structural Engineering. He is a Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Cuban-American Association of Civil Engineers.