Fall '16

Port of Havana

Designing New Urban Scenarios for Port Cities

Design Studio

  • Start 20.09.2016
  • ETH Zurich, ONA
  • Urban-Think Tank Chair of Architecture and Urban Design
    Prof. Alfredo Brillembourg & Prof. Hubert Klumpner
    Danny Wills, Hans-Christian Rufer

    Chair of Sociology, D-ARCH, ETH
    Prof. Christian Schmid

    Faculty of Architecture, CUJAE, La Habana
    Prof. Jorge Peña Díaz
  • Guests: Peter Noever, Havanna Project, MAK Vienna // Prof. Isabel Gunther, Economist, NADEL, ETH // Alice Hollenstein, Center for Urban & Real Estate Management, UZH // Cliff Hammer, SECO, Inter-American Development Bank // Prof. Christian Werthmann, UN-Habitat Informal City Hub


With an end to the U.S. embargo in sight, fifty-six years after the Cuban Revolution, Havana is confronted with probably the most challenging opportunity for urban development in the Americas. At the heart of this development – and the site of our studio – is Havana’s recently decommissioned harbor, consisting of 1000 hectares of state-owned land currently lacking any comprehensive plan. Working directly with the Havana city government and local institutions, students will design alternative architectural typologies and inclusive urban visions that challenge conventional approaches of urban development characterized by privatization, fragmentation and gentrification.

Students will propose architectural projects that react to the existing built legacy, absorb the influx of capital investment, and connect the surrounding neighborhoods to the waterfront, while generating an overall urban vision that tackles issues related to tourism, infrastructure, preservation, environment, mobility, and resource.

Havana is a unique urban case study. Its strategic location in the Gulf of Mexico made Cuba one of the most important trading hubs of the Americas, a key node between the New and the Old World. At the center of the city is Havana’s harbor. Through the centuries, it remained a crossroad of cultural exchange, generating wealth and a cosmopolitan flavor. With the imposition of the US embargo in 1960, however, as well as the economic difficulties that flowed from the dissolution of the Soviet bloc, international trade suffered immensely. The harbor transitioned slowly into a vast area lined with vacant factories, abandoned piers, and rusted cranes.

Today, with the relocation of all industrial activities to the newly opened port of Mariel on the outskirts of the city, and the possibility of the U.S. blockade being lifted at any moment, a wealth of investment is being directed at the port of Havana presenting a new challenge for this vast stretch of latent land in the center of the city. Because the political system means that the state owns all of the land, the direction of the development is up to them. Struggling between globalization, modernization, and the country’s revolutionary socialist tradition, an alternative solution to the global commercially driven development is needed.

Can the city accept and direct this global investment while preserving its local cultural ideals? Will it learn from its specific experiences and develop its own creative urban solutions for a sustainable growth? Or will it replicate the usual mistakes of rapid urban development seen in many cities of today? Can we define this new urban agenda, together?

The development of this studio will benefit from the findings of our “Learning from Havana” summer school, which will be held from 22 August to 2 September, developed in close partnership with Prof. Christian Schmid (Chair of Sociology at D-ARCH ETH) and Prof. Jorge Peña Díaz (Faculty of Architecture of CUJAE, La Habana) who have been mapping and studying Havana over the past ten years.

The seminar week to Havana, Cuba is not obligatory but highly recommended.