Cuban Architecture In B&W

Steve and his Cohiba

Steve and his Cohiba

Architecture throughout Latin America runs the gamut, from the sublime masterworks of the early Spanish colonists, to the hodgepodge, makeshift, Jerry-rigged concoctions of the local talent.  I think the three examples I’ve selected below belong to the later category.  My family has been in the construction business since before I was born, starting with my grandfather, his brothers and my father and uncles.  My father was an architect (or more accurately a building designer) who struck out on his own after leaving the family business to form his own company Dennstedt & Dell’Acqua.  In the post-war heyday of construction, the Dennstedt Construction Company was arguably the largest and most successful home builder in San Diego, California, USA.  Though the company was disbanded in the late 1950’s their constructions still stand, almost 70-years later, a testament to fine craftsmanship and business integrity.  These examples of Cuban architecture were all photographed while on walkabout in Santiago, Cuba.  Please don’t misinterpret my comments as being derogatory in any way—I was both captivated and intrigued by these sights—I think you will be too.  Many of these neighborhoods house poor, simple and hardworking families doing the best they can given their plight in life. When on walkabout I much prefer these experiences over the high-rent districts where tourists typically spend their time.  To me this is real day-to-day living.  This is real life.

Stairway to Heaven BW Framed

Stairway to Heaven

Santiago, Cuba

(Click on image to enlarge)

1/1600 @ f/2.8, ISO 80, FL/40mm, Natural Light, Handheld

I titled this one Stairway to Heaven for obvious reasons.  I didn’t actually climb the stairs, so I don’t really know where they lead—but if it’s heaven I know the gate at the top will be locked.  The actual stairway is what intrigued me.  It looks like its been cast from concrete, and the only visible support is the mid-column support to the right.  Look how narrow the concrete is at the juncture of each step—how in the world can that support anyone?  And did I mention the earthquakes in Santiago?  That this stairway is still standing is a heavenly miracle in itself.  This scene also vaguely reminds me of some of the photos coming out of Hiroshima after the bomb—in 1967 I actually stood in Hiroshima’s Peace Park, and saw what remained of the devastation myself (it’s a sight I will never forget).

Penthouse BW Framed

The Penthouse

Santiago, Cuba

(Click on image to enlarge)

1/2000s @ f/3.2, ISO 125, FL/35mm, Natural Light, Handheld

Donald Trump, is this where you live?  What initially grabbed my attention was the color. Everything was pretty much raw concrete except for the penthouse box jutting out at the top. It was bright orange, and really made a statement of ownership—not unlike Mr. Trump. The color version just didn’t hold up as a photo, much too cluttered and distracting.  Once I converted it to black & white the forms and geometric shapes really started to pop—the vertical of the lamppost, the diagonal of the curb, the penthouse box and the curves of the roof tile and fluttering laundry.  Also, the high contrast, black & white conversions detail the texture on both structures unlike the color versions.

Crazy House BW Framed

The Crazy House

Santiago, Cuba

(Click on image to enlarge)

1/2000s @ f/2.8, ISO 160, FL/35mm, Natural Light, Handheld

So why do I call this the Crazy House?  Duh, look at the tiled awning.  That’s right, the one with the big droop in the center.  Would you walk under that?  Only after I viewed this image on my computer screen did I see the two 4 x 4 wood supports at either end—but what about the center.  I think if someone sneezed, which I am prone to do, the whole thing might just collapse.  Why wouldn’t you just remove this danger from the sidewalk?  Does it really provide enough sun relief to justify its existence?  And I love the traditional Cuban structure on the right, with its emblematic staircase and balcony.

Call me crazy, but I love these structures—with all their weirdness and eccentricity.  In the United States everything has become so homogenous and boring (just drive through any suburb in Southern California).  In Cuba every neighborhood—heck, every street—is uniquely different and surprising.  And what might really shock you are the interiors, for the most part they are simple, tidy and extremely clean.  I’ve gone into more than one home that looks like a complete wreck from the street, only to find a beautiful and well-maintained interior.  In fact I’ve stayed in these homes, and been treated like part of the family—which is like being treated like royalty.  Don’t be mislead by what you see on the outside, it’s often just superficial—the same could be said about people.

Photographer’s note:  These photos were all captured in JPEG color files with my small Canon PowerShot G15 backup shooter.  During the editing process I converted them to black & white using various devices and techniques:  including HDR, infrared, high contrast adjustments and the like (PSE11 and Photomatix Essentials software).  Images were then Museum matted & framed using Big Huge Labs free online software.  SFD 

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2 responses to “Cuban Architecture In B&W

    • Interesting Lee, thanks. I’m considering doing a coffee table book myself on Cuba, but it’s a lot of work. I did one on Costa Rica a few years back. So few American’s get the opportunity to see Cuba, and there is much interest amongst my friends.

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