BAC Alumni and Friends Explore Cuba

Group travels to experience unique architecture and rich history

View of Cuba

View of Cuba; Photo by Madison Dye

This summer, 18 alumni and friends of the BAC embarked on a voyage to explore Cuban architecture. BAC travelers learned about the unique styles and design of the country's architectural history as well as the restoration trades.

Exploring Cuba's architecture has become a tradition at the Boston Architectural College. In 2001, as part of the College's "Program for the Américas," the BAC began to study Cuba. Then, in 2002, following investigations and research, the BAC invited members of its larger community to travel to Havana, Las Terrazas, Matanzas, and Varadero to study the country's culture and architecture. The group spent 10 days sketching, photographing, and maintaining journals while also meeting representatives of some of the country's institutions devoted to the arts. The recent 2015 trip was a relaunch of this educational exchange in Cuba, building on the College's past experiences there.

The group experienced Cuba's architecture—detailed, colorful, and bright—first-hand through visits to prominent cultural sites. Guests explored the four main squares in Old Havana: Plaza de Armas, Plaza de San Francisco de Asís, Plaza Vieja, and Plaza de la Catedral. They also visited many of the prominent monuments in Havana, including the elaborate mausoleums of the Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón; the beautiful rose-colored Casa de la Amistad, designed by Rene Lalique; and the Finca Vigía, Ernest Hemingway's permanent residence, which has been restored and turned into a museum, preserving his personal articles and papers.

The travelers also had the opportunity to venture outside of the city, visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Cienfuegos and Trinidad in the countryside of Cuba. They toured the world's largest collection of tropical and rare botanical species at the Jardín Botánico de Cienfuegos, and, on the way back to Havana, took a detour to explore the Playa Girón, the site of the 1961 US invasion.

Cuba was lively and bursting at the seams with culture throughout the trip. The BAC's visit coincided with the Bienal de la Habana, a city-wide art exhibition that features performances, videos, and visual art installations. Various forms of art were scattered across the city, with much of it focused at La Cabaña, an old fortress that protects the Havana Harbor and serves as the main campus for art installations by Cuban artists. The Instituto Superior de Arte, a campus for the arts first imagined by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, was also a site for the Bienal, where exhibitions showcased student work.

Members of the trip found that learning about Cuba's architecture and art, while also learning about the political and economic status of the country, was educational and eye-opening.

"My takeaways from the trip reinforced my sense and belief that all aspects of design greatly affect humans," said Burton S. Visnick of Visnick & Caulfield Associates, friend of the BAC and participant of the Cuba trip. "We witnessed ingenuity, and the desire of people to be safe, well-nourished, and to pursue knowledge of the outside world in a political and environmental climate that challenges, confronts, obstructs, and paradoxically encourages these pursuits simultaneously."

While the trip's focus was architecture and design, Cuba's history and culture inevitably also took center stage. "The visit was an incredible and educational experience," said Catalina Rojo Ianetta, the BAC's Alumni and Development Officer and the trip's group leader. "All of the guests returned with a better understanding of Cuba's exceptional architecture and rich history, and we look forward to seeing how this trip continues to evolve in the future."

To see photos from the trip, visit our Flickr album.