Havana's Crumbling Houses

Collection with 30 media items created by Transterra Editor

Cuba 13 Sep 2013 06:00

Housing in Havana, Cuba

“It’s falling down.” This was the answer I invariably received when I asked the residents of Old and Central Havana about their homes. 

These photographs are born from my desire to see what living inside the crumbling grandeur of Havana’s buildings looks like. I photographed inside and outside almost a hundred different homes. Most of the homes I visited are in Old Havana.



Old Havana was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982. Since this date, many buildings have been restored and though the work continues, the emphasis is always on preserving key buildings rather than improving or saving the lives of the general population. While certain buildings are done up to a high standard, the vast majority of the homes remain in a dangerous state. 

Age, decay, neglect, over-crowding and amateur repairs combine with natural factors to threaten the stability of Havana’s Baroque, Neoclassical and Art Deco buildings. There are two or three partial or totally building collapses in Old and Central Havana every week. Residents have no choice but to continue to live in these buildings that have partially collapsed.

Seven out of every ten homes are in need of major repairs, according to official statistics. Some of the main issues faced by the people living in Havana are dangerous, including outdated electrical wiring, basic or even nonexistent plumbing, floors and walls that are unstable or that have already caved in, collapsing roofs and ceilings, water damage, mold and dangerously unstable stairs.

A shortage of homes means the province around the capital needs some 300,000 more properties. Most of the once high-ceilinged houses of Havana have been divided both vertically and horizontally to provide more floor space. This puts the already weakened structures under additional strain. It also creates many dwellings with no windows or ventilation.

 Despite the many positive developments in education and healthcare the communist regime has bought about Cuba, it has failed with Article 9 of Cuba’s Constitution: The state shall work to ensure that no citizen is denied comfortable housing.


Havana Cuba Architecture Exteriors Interiors Buildings Culture Old Vintage Photo Essay Photocollection Collection Documentary House Home

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Housing in Havana 1
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
11 Sep 2013

A crumbling ceiling and staircase in Old Havana.

Neither the Cuban state nor the people have money for repairs and this lack of money has played a major part in the critical state of the buildings. Nicholas Quintana, a Cuban-born professor of architecture at Florida International University, said that the neglect of Havana's architecture was politically motivated and that it represented the work of the republic and, as such, Fidel wanted to see it eliminated. Other experts in architecture say that half a century of communist rule and embargos have indirectly saved the capital's architecture from developers, even though the lack of money for repairs has taken a terrible toll.

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Housing in Havana 2
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
11 Sep 2013

Fuse boxes in the entrance of a building in Old Havana. These worn and out-dated fuse boxes are very dangerous and can be seen in the entrances of most of the buildings in Havana.

Residents rarely have the means to call in professionals to fix things in their homes. They are forced to use whatever materials they can find to make repairs and they take risks trying to repair electrical malfunctions.

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Housing in Havana 3
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
05 Sep 2013

Both the flimsy wooden supports holding buildings up and the vegetation growing in the damp cracks of the buildings can be seen all over Havana.

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Housing in Havana 4
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
01 Sep 2013

A man walks through the arcades below a dangerously unstable building that has been inadequately supported by wooden poles.

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Housing in Havana 5
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
10 Sep 2013

This small room was designed for storage but it is now being used as a communal kitchen for the three families who live on the ground floor of this house.

Gas hobs are frequently left alight all day as gas is subsidised and is cheaper than the cost of matches.

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Housing in Havana 6
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
07 Sep 2013

A jumble of small dwellings that have been built onto the original flat roofs, further destabilising the already weakend structures of the buildings

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Housing in Havana 7
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
10 Sep 2013

Paint never lasts very long because of the humidity in the walls. Most Cubans love and have an instinctive understanding of colour. Although their homes are usually in a very poor state, they are decorated with flair.

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Housing in Havana 8
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
01 Sep 2013

The Capitolio seen from the roof of the former Hotel Bristol in Central Havana. This 1930’s hotel was abandoned and fell into disrepair. The former employees of the hotel decided to live in the hotel. Every available space is being used, even the shaft of the broken elevator and the empty and cracked roof top swimming pool that is being used as a kitchen.

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Housing in Havana 9
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
10 Sep 2013

A staircase that is close to collapse in an Old Havana house.

Neither the government nor the people have the money to repair and care for the buildings and this is the main reason why Havana's Baroque, Neoclassical and Art Deco buildings haven't been modified and the city is of such historical importance. Old Havana is was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982. Since this date many buildings have been restored and the work continues but the emphasis is always on preserving key buildings rather than improving or saving the lives of the general population. While certain buildings are done up to a high standard the vast majority of the homes remain in a dangerous state.

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Housing in Havana 10
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
06 Sep 2013

Plant seeds that blow into the damp cracks in the buildings take root quickly and hasten the deterioration of the buildings. All over Havana plants can be seen growing out of walls and roves.

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Housing in Havana 11
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
10 Sep 2013

Mould and humidity are a problem in most of the houses in Havana. This creates an unhealthy environment that increases the risk of respiratory and skin infections for those that live in these conditions.

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Housing in Havana 13
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
10 Sep 2013

In the home of an elderly lady, Old Havana.

Religious icons and symbols are displayed in the majority of Cuban homes.

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Housing in Havana 14
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
10 Sep 2013

Paintings and photographs depicting key figures and moments of the revolution are still very popular among the older members of the population in Cuba. The younger generation are more interested in contemporary, Cuban and international, art and popular culture.

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Housing in Havana 15
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
31 Aug 2013

The inhabitants of this building, which is dangerously close to collapsing, have been evicted. The flimsy wooden poles that prop it up are insufficient and there is a serious risk that the building could topple at any time, injuring or killing people in this busy street in Old Havana.

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Housing in Havana 16
Havana
By Alison McCauley
09 Sep 2013

When the young woman who lives in this small appartment moved out from her family home in Guantánamo province, she bought this parrot with her for company. Unfortunately she now has no space in her apartment other than the windowless toilet to keep his cage.

The young woman is working hard buying clothing and accessories from wholesalers and then selling the goods to individuals. She has been able to pay her rent and she is slowly saving some money to take back to her family in Guantánamo province.

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Housing in Havana 17
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
03 Sep 2013

An elderly resident looks down at the stairs leading to her apartment. The original stairs collapsed completely and were replaced by this rickety, homemade staircase. Ten years ago this woman fell down these stairs and broke her shoulder, hip and all her front teeth.

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Housing in Havana 18
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
31 Aug 2013

Residents of a neighbourhood in Old Havana try to stabilise the top of a crumbling building. Debris from this building had recently fell into the street and injured people.

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Housing in Havana 19
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
10 Sep 2013

Authentic tiles in a communal hallway.

Neither the Cuban state nor the people have money for repairs and this lack of money has played a major part in the critical state of the buildings. Nicholas Quintana, a Cuban-born professor of architecture at Florida International University, said that the neglect of Havana's architecture was politically motivated and that it represented the work of the republic and, as such, Fidel wanted to see it eliminated. Other experts in architecture say that half a century of communist rule and embargos have indirectly saved the capital's architecture from developers, even though the lack of money for repairs has taken a terrible toll.

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Housing in Havana 20
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
02 Sep 2013

Humidity is one of the major factors in the deterioration of the buildings in Havana.

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Housing in Havana 21
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
10 Sep 2013

Catholic icons and images adorn the walls of most homes in Cuba. The dangerous wiring is also typical of homes in Havana. The people don't have the means to repair their homes properly.

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Housing in Havana 22
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
31 Aug 2013

The view from an apartment in the former Hotel Bristol in Central Havana

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Housing in Havana 23
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
10 Sep 2013

Most homes in Cuba have a Santeria shrine. The walls in this room are marked by a combination of mould and smoke from the almost constantly lit candles.

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Housing in Havana 24
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
31 Dec 2008

A man smoking a cigar is standing next to a building that has completely collapsed. The building next door is still standing and people continue to live and work there.

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Housing in Havana 25
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
10 Sep 2013

A communal hallway of a house in Old Havana. These loose hanging wires can be seen in most of the buildings of Old and Central Havana.

Neither the Cuban state nor the people have money for repairs and this lack of money has played a major part in the critical state of the buildings. Nicholas Quintana, a Cuban-born professor of architecture at Florida International University, said that the neglect of Havana's architecture was politically motivated and that it represented the work of the republic and, as such, Fidel wanted to see it eliminated. Other experts in architecture say that half a century of communist rule and embargos have indirectly saved the capital's architecture from developers, even though the lack of money for repairs has taken a terrible toll.

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Housing in Havana 26
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
31 Dec 2012

This building, which houses numerous families, is being supported by metal poles.

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Housing in Havana 27
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
31 Dec 2012

These mediopuntos, or Cuban fanlights, have been protected by UNESCO, yet the people haven't been given funding to repair them.

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Housing in Havana 28
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
31 Dec 2012

A severely cracked and crumbling ceiling in a building in Central Havana.

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Housing in Havana 29
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
31 Dec 2012

A kitchen built in the former rooftop swimming pool of a 1930's hotel in Central Havana.

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Housing in Havana 30
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
09 Sep 2013

A kitchen in Old Havana
The man who lives here is an alcoholic and he survives by begging.

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Housing in Havana 31
Havana, Cuba
By Alison McCauley
09 Sep 2013

A man trying to figure out why the electricity isn't working in his apartment. Residents rarely have the means to call in professionals to fix things in their homes. They are forced to use whatever materials they can find to make repairs and they take risks trying to repair electrical malfunctions.