The Strikingly Well-Preserved Modernist Homes of Pre-Revolutionary Cuba

Photographing history in Havana's Nuevo Vedado neighborhood.

(All Photos: Stephen Allen)
In 1957, the last private residence in Havana to be designed by Cuban architect Ricardo Porro was finished. Situated in the Nuevo Vedado neighborhood, it featured a sharply angled roof and a wave-shaped exterior wall. In the nearly 60 years since its completion, little appears to have changed, except for today, it is surrounded by a tall iron fence.

It's not the only modern architecture in town, either. Havana might be more closely associated with image of crumbling Colonial structures, with those oft-photographed brightly colored classic cars. Yet in the 1950s, there was a boom in construction for modernist architecture, for those who could afford it. According to Architectural Digest, it was the Spanish immigrants who first brought the modernisme from Gaudi, followed by Art Deco and other styles in the 1920s. At the time, Cuba was riding high, with one of the most per capita income of any Caribbean country and a thriving nightlife.

Then, of course, came the Revolution of 1959 and many of Cuba’s architects left the country. Porro, however, returned to Cuba from Venezuela. He was commissioned to work on the National Arts Schools, until his designs fell from favor before leaving in exile in 1966. In the same decade, the Architects Association ceased to exist and the architecture school became known as the "Faculty of Construction Work". 

Recently, photographer Stephen Allen roamed the neighborhood of Nuevo Vedado. The high fence at the Porro home is not unique to the area, as is evident in nearly every photo. Curious, Allen spoke to some residents, who told him they were all erected after the Revolution, but there was no consensus as to why: security, said one, or possibly status.

Although some of the residences are falling into disrepair, their clean lines remain elegant. Here, a selection of the surprisingly lovely mid-century houses lining Cuba's streets.