Havana, Cuba IV: La Rampa – A 20th Century Modern Preservation District

Prerequisites:Students will be expected to possess a high degree of design capability and interest in the following areas: Urban design and planning at the master plan scale; Architectural design at the scale of an individual project; and Landscape architecture design.Course Description:This semester\’s studio will focus on the designation of a twentieth century modern preservation district in Havana\’s El Vedado neighborhood. More than a dozen important International Style modernist buildings, ravaged by time and revolution, remain in the vicinity of La Rampa, Havana\’s quintessential 1950\’s street. The development of a strategy for the revitalization and reuse of these iconic structures will be at the core of the studio work. Integral to this effort will be the reuse of underutilized sites to be redeveloped in accordance with a new set of urban design guidelines and a master plan for the district.The streetscape along La Rampa was created during the heyday of the 1950\’s and was characterized by mafia related rum running, drugs and gambling. The district flourished into the early 1960\’s, as a particular form of Havana style urbanism, with a healthy mix of government offices, commercial, retail and residential uses. While the quality of life in much of the city has deteriorated since the revolution, this street has remained alive and vibrant partially fueled by its cultural and tourist activities. It is Havana\’s Times Square and the midtwentieth century version of the Paseo del Prado, Havana\’s magnificent pedestrian promenade. The seven-block-long steep slope of La Rampa, toward the ocean at the Malecon, is its most distinguishing physical characteristic. Building forms step with the topography as pedestrian activities are shaped by it. This is an environment full of potential for a vibrant pedestrian mix of activities at varying levels along the street. The influence of the existing hotels, the proximity of the University of Havana, the Malecon and the ocean will all be important form givers to this studio project.A La Rampa Modern Preservation District, with its unrivaled collection of period buildings, has the potential to economically and physically revitalize this part of Havana, as has occurred in the Art Deco / South Beach district of Miami Beach. Many of the best buildings along La Rampa are high-rises from the 1950\’s but others predate that period and are fine examples of Art Deco or Streamlined Style. This project represents an opportunity to design new contemporary architecture, within the modern district, that would match Havana\’s other excellent buildings that span five centuries. With Havana\’s rise as an important tourist destination and with the struggling Cuban economy being so dependent upon tourism, government officials appear very interested in the recommendations that this studio is likely to offer. The time is right to initiate a movement to preserve this aspect of Havana\’s architectural patrimony. This Urban Design studio will be open to students from each of the GSD departments. The effective application of each of the disciplines that we teach will be crucial to the success of this effort. During the first half of the semester students will concentrate their talents on the identification of design and planning strategies that will lead to the creation of the La Rampa Modern Preservation District Master Plan. Creative architectural design, urban design and landscape architecture will define the character of the proposed district. A written plan for the implementation and phasing of the new district will be critical to the plan\’s success. During the second half of the semester, work will concentrate on the design of specific interventions. Designs of new, dense, urban building typologies are encouraged in response to the current shortage of adequate commercial space and housing in Havana. As was