Havana, Cuba

Cuba’s Escuela Taller does an amazing job when it comes to preserving their urban heritage. Let’s learn from them!

Cuba boasts 400 years of stunning architecture, combining styles from Colonial to Cuban Baroque, Neo-Classicism and Art Deco.

Many of these buildings are in a state of disrepair and even collapse. The Office of the Historian of the City of Havana (OHC) has garnered international recognition for its innovative urban rehabilitation program. Already they have restored the Old City of Havana, while also creating shops and hotels that allow them to generate income for each subsequent renovation. The OHC works closely with the Escuela Taller, a specialized trade school dedicated to preserving traditional craftsmanship in the areas of construction, bricklaying, ironwork, carpentry, mural painting, and more. Their students and graduates form the main body of workers for the historic restoration countrywide.

We plan to organize academic exchange programs and exhibits in the future to highlight their work and to facilitate networking with international counterparts.

Havana’s Old Town has been beautifully restored, a real feat especially given the country’s economic challenges. The creative genius behind the refurbishing of the historic district is the legendary Eusebio Leal, who heads the Office of the City Historian. His formula: restore one building, rent it out, then use the income to restore the next building, to brilliant domino effect. His second great insight: that proper restoration requires skilled craftsmen who care, and who know how to do it right. Thus was born the Escuela Taller – a two-year education-plus-apprenticeship program that graduates the dedicated and talented artisans needed for this historic task.

Given the embargo and the country’s overall economic problems and shortages, the Escuela Taller often lacks even the basics: pencils, protective rubber gloves, rulers. They have computers, but no keyboards. And there are still many restrictions – no mail service, to name just one, which means that when we get together some donations, we have to find someone who’s going to Cuba and can hand-deliver them.

In the lovely old Cuban cities of Havana, Cienfuegos and Trinidad.

We collect supplies for the students and the staff, most recently some iPads. We’re hoping to raise funds for a visit to the U.S., where the Havana crew could exchange knowledge with their urban restoration counterparts in New Orleans.

How You Can Help:

We could really use some Spanish keyboards and more iPads. It would also be great if you could share your travel photos and other stories connected to Cuba’s rich cultural patrimony. And if you’re planning a visit, contact us for the latest list of bring-along items – many of which cost only a few dollars.

One obstacle to the work of the Escuela Taller is the lack of access to supplies – art materials, protective gear such as gloves and goggles, and ink cartridges. ARCH is in touch with the Escuela Taller to figure out the best way of providing their students with basic materials for their important work. We deliver supplies directly to the schools through our members. Please consider a small donation.