December 8, 2009
by Noushin Ehsan AIA

Event: Global Dialogues hosts trip to Cuba
Location:
Havana, Cuba, 11.07-14.09
Travelers: Margaret O’Donoghue Castillo, AIA, LEED AP — AIANY Vice President for Public Outreach & Principal, Helpern Architects; Pedro Castillo — Principal, Pedro Castillo Architects; Judith DiMaio, AIA — Dean, School of Architecture & Design at New York Institute of Technology (NYIT); Jeremy Edmunds, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP — Project Manager & Sustainability Advisor; Noushin Ehsan, AIA — President, 2nd Opinion Design & Chair, AIANY Global Dialogues Committee; Frank Mruk, AIA, RIBA — Associate Dean, School of Architecture & Design at New York Institute of Technology (NYIT); Brian Taylor — Professor, New York Institute of Technology (NYIT); Gerard F. Vasisko, AIA — Associate Principal, Perkins + Will; Margot Woolley, AIA — Assistant Commissioner and Public Design Commission Liaison, NYC Department of Design and Construction
Organizer: AIANY Global Dialogues Committee; Margaret Castillo, AIA, LEED AP

From 11.07 to 14.09, nine architects and designers traveled to Havana, Cuba, on a historic voyage. The trip was initiated by Noushin Ehsan, AIA, chair of the AIANY Global Dialogues Committee, and Margaret Castillo, AIA, LEED AP, AIANY Vice President for Public Outreach. The Fundación Amistad, under the leadership of its president Luly Duke, transformed the proposed wish list into a trip that exceeded everyone’s expectations. The success of the trip was due to the knowledge and efforts of the administrators of Fundación Amistad and the respect that Duke, a Cuban-American, has earned in Cuba.

In addition to the program (click Cuba-AIA Agenda for more information), the group had several opportunities to meet with the highest-ranking professors of architecture and planning in Cuba, and historians who have been devoted to the successful preservation of Havana’s historic center. Architect Roberto Gottardi gave a tour of the Escuelas Nacionales de Arte (See “Foundation Catches Up With 2009 Brunner Grant Recipient,” by Alysa Nahmias, recipient of the 2009 Brunner Grant, and Glenda Reed, Center for Architecture Foundation, in this issue to read more about a documentary on the school). We visited several private houses that were designed in the 1950s by noted architects, including a house designed by Richard Neutra and built in 1954 for the Schuthess family, now occupied by the Swiss Ambassador. We were also invited to meet with Jonathan Farrar, the Chief of Mission, U.S. Interests Section, at a party in the former U.S. Embassy (now his residence).

The individual stories of the people who went on the trip, those we met, and the outlook for the future of Cuba were varied and often very emotional. For example, Pedro Castillo, who was returning to his native Cuba after 50 years, found the school that he used to attend when he was a child and the cathedral where his parents were married. I, myself, was in ecstasy when I found the Baha’i Center in Havana and spent the celebration of our prophet Bahá’u’lláh’s birthday with fellow Cuban Baha’is who, until only recently, had not been allowed to practice their faith for decades.

After exploring local architecture and attending tours and discussions with Cuban professional experts by day, we enjoyed the different historical nightclubs and cabarets in the evening. Among them was the Tropicana, now celebrating its 70th year. In our free time we experienced Havana’s nearby beautiful beaches. Some of us saw a modern dance performance at the Escuelas Nacionales de Arte. We also listened to a choir of Baroque music in the cathedral.

Above all, as part of the humanitarian aspect of our trip, and reflecting the main mission of Fundación Amistad, we were asked to bring gifts of basic goods, such as tissue paper, toothpaste, clothes, and other necessary items, for children who are cancer survivors. Observing the smiles of the youths, who through the help of Fundación have built hope and the ability to continue with their schooling, was truly one of the highlights of the trip.

On behalf of the Global Dialogues Committee, together with Margaret Castillo, and the Fundación Amistad, we will soon host a symposium at the Center for Architecture where we will present selected pictures, documentation, and narratives of our nine-member group.

Noushin Ehsan, AIA, is the chair of the AIANY Global Dialogue Committee and the president of 2nd Opinion Design.

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