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Nov 2013 back issue
by Alison McCauley
está cayendo "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 knocked on doors and begged permission to photograph the residents and the interiors of their homes. I
photographed inside 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 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.
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 total building collapses in
Old and Central Havana every week. Residents have no choice but to continue to live in buildings that have partially
Cuba has a high life expectancy, a 99.8% literacy rate, free education at every level and free health care for all its
citizens, but the government still struggles to provide citizens with safe and comfortable housing.
Despite the condition of the buildings, most of the homes I visited were filled with personal, social, cultural and
religious clues about their occupants. Most were also filled with vibrant colours, mementos, belongings, beloved pets
and human warmth and spirit.
Inside the home of four elderly brothers, Old Havana. The youngest of four brothers enjoys a cigarette in the
ground floor apartment his family has lived in for four generations. The apartment has electricity and basic plumbing,
but water infiltration has badly damaged the ceilings and walls.
A young woman in her kitchen. The floor of the landing in front of this apartment has caved in and large marble
slabs have fallen down to the hallway below. The couple that live in this apartment have to walk carefully along the
edge of the landing to get to their front door. They have no running water and have to carry buckets of water across
the dangerous landing.
A baby crying in his damp home. A young couple and their baby live in this small apartment that has become so
damaged by water infiltration that their belongings are mouldy and it is no longer safe to use anything electrical. They
have decided to move into the already crowded apartment of a relation.
An elderly lady showing me her portrait of revolutionary, Camilo Cienfuegos. This 78-year-old woman shares
two small rooms with her son. The original stairs to their home collapsed completely and they were replaced by a four
meter-high rickety homemade staircase. Ten years ago she fell down these stairs and broke her shoulder, hip and all
her front teeth.
A man reflected in a bedroom mirror at his home in old Havana. This man shares two small rooms, in this
crumbling house in Old Havana, with a friend.
A communal hallway in Old Havana. These loose hanging wires can be seen in most of the buildings of Old
An elderly lady and her dog, in Old Havana. This lady
shares her apartment with her daughter and grandchildren.
Although the apartment is airier and brighter than most, it
is accessed by a crumbling staircase.
A young woman outside the doorway to her one-
room dwelling. The room where this woman lives has
no windows or other ventilation so her doorway is left
open whenever she's at home.
Fuse boxes in the entrance of a building in Old Havana. These dangerously worn and out-dated fuse boxes can
be seen in the entrances of most of the buildings in Havana.
A crumbling ceiling and staircase in Old Havana. Every room in this dilapidated building houses a family.
An elderly lady in her one-room home in Old Havana. This woman's one-room home is immaculately clean and
tidy. She has to share a bathroom and kitchen with three different families and her room is accessed by climbing a
A cabaret performer dressing in his one-room home in Old Havana. Very frequently the originally high-ceilinged
rooms are divided up horizontally to create more floor space. In this home the space has been divided twice, but
many buildings are divided into three low-ceilinged levels. The building of these mezzanine-like levels is done by the
residents themselves and they use whatever materials they can find.
A man resting in his bedroom in Old Havana. This man, whose wife died recently, now lives alone in his relatively
roomy house in Old Havana. The house has all its original features. It is damp and the electrics and plumbing are
A print of Jesus and some makeshift electric wiring. Catholic images and icons adorn most of the homes in
A dancer cuddles her puppy in her one-room apartment. The cracked and sagging marble floor is typical of
buildings throughout Havana.
A man and his cat at home in Old Havana. Although the building where this man lives is as unstable as most
buildings in Old Havana, this man has family in Miami who are able to help with the costs of keeping his small
apartment in relatively good condition.
A woman at home in Old Havana. This woman enjoys the light and good ventilation the large street-level windows
give her. Her windows, like most street-level windows in Havana, are barred for security.