Certainly, architecture in Cuba, starting in the 18th century, was preoccupied with the construction of walls and forts. It was militaristic in nature to be able to repel the attacks of privateers and pirates. At that time, Cuba was a colony of Spain and was very much visited by the piracy. Precisely for that reason they built strong forts like the Morro, the Cabaña and other structures in general for military purposes. You can say that Habana then was a walled city.
We can affirm that in the beginning the first houses and streets had the strong influence of the architecture of the Moors of Spain. Cobbled stoned streets, baroque style houses and neoclassical buildings. But, as time passed, we saw a more modern architecture develop and, of course, with that came the grandeur and comfort of the great North American cities. The Cuban architects, created a city, so modern and attractive that it had nothing to envy from any other international city.
As you walk through Havana nowadays, you can see many remnants of this glorious and rich architectural past albeit most in disrepair or collapsed.
The radical transformation of Cuban society from the capitalist system to socialism was immediately expressed in the territorial sphere by transforming social, productive and property relations on urban and rural land. Thus, Cuban architecture entered a dark period because the urban development of Havana was interrupted and a process of configuration began of new peasant settlements that promoted a low cost urbanization.
Examples of this time’s architecture you can see in the structures along the Atlantic side and others in El Vedado, Havana.
In a general sense the buildings of this first period (1959-1969) were characterized by formal and constructive simplicity, the search for technical solutions of easy execution and lightness or low weight. The strong Soviet influence brought its obsession with symmetry and saving space, spreading shells, lightened cover plates and hyperbolic paraboloids. Also, in the early stages of prefabrication we saw folded-plate slabs to cover large social spaces and the Sandino system was used, especially in rural housing.
In the second period (1969-1979), the prefabrication reached the generality of architectural subjects, that now included hotels, schools, hospitals, homes, etc. New neighborhoods appeared and those that had been built in the previous period also grew with more resources to invest but with the same characteristics of the first period, namely, the obvious absence of artistic expression.
In the third period (1979-1989) we began to see a concern for the formal aspect and the rescue of the cultural values of the Cuban identity, taking care of the harmonious insertion in the environment and respect for the architectural and urban heritage. The codes of functional modernism and postmodernism resurfaced in Cuba like a mirage, sometimes so fragile that they were undone in the attempt. We saw what a challenge that was during the last years of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st.
After the collapse of the USSR and with the tourist boom of the 90’s, the construction of modern functional hotels increased dramatically. The new hotels reflected a strong influence of more contemporary Western architecture with imposing steel and glass buildings, mimicking the typical facades of skyscrapers.
The most notable examples are the Meliá Cohiba and Oasis Panorama Hotel.