Edificio Girón, Havana’s Brutalist Gem

A claustrophobia-inducing perspective from the building's inner yard

photography by: Omri Westmark

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In stark contrast to Havana's ornate palaces, Edificio Girón was born as a modernist alternative to the flamboyant buildings which predated the Cuban Revolution. Over the years, the pioneering structure became synonymous with neglect as the unforgiving elements and a lack of maintenance have left it in a state of disrepair. In spite of its alarming dilapidation, the unusual building provides an authentic glimpse into the lives of ordinary people, for whom the architect's utopian dream turned into an arduous reality.

More often than not, we associate the Cuban capital with its crumbling Baroque-style architecture that dot almost each and every corner of the city center. Nevertheless, Havana is apparently also home to a myriad of socialist and modern style buildings, resonating with the ideology of Cuba’s communist regime which ruled the Caribbean country with an iron fist for over 6 decades.


Erected in 1967, in the city’s most bustling district of Vedado, Edificio Girón is an interconnected pair of 17 story apartment blocks, built originally as a social housing. Unlike its lavish counterparts across the neighborhood, the brutalist style complex lacks any kind of unfunctional ornaments, a clear antithesis to Havana’s bygone era. Designed by architects Alberto Rodríguez and Antonio Quintana, the building was regarded as an experimental project at the time of its inauguration, not least because the construction works were the first nationwide to use climbing formwork.


Similarly, the choice of location was not a case of coincidence. By placing the public housing complex in front of the Malecón, Havana’s iconic esplanade, the authorities sought to convey a strong message of social justice and solidarity with the poorer echelons of society.


Despite the good intentions and large amount of resources invested, the brutalist residential building soon experienced a rapid deterioration due to incessant corrosion by the nearby salty seawater. In fact, in a matter of a decade or so, the structural iron was already rusting while the block’s concrete skeleton became riddled with cracks.


With occasional power outages, infrequent water supply, defunct elevators, just to name a few, El Girón is currently a far cry from its intended vision. Nevertheless, the building’s peculiar design coupled with the social activities that take place within its confines make it a fascinating place to explore.


Perhaps the single most interesting part of the building is the series of five tubular corridors that connect the two sections. Featuring somewhat claustrophobic dimensions, the passageways are pierced by long and narrow embrasures, offering a breathtaking glance of the Malecón as it is regularly being battered by the formidable waves. If you have enough energy to climb all the way up to the last floor, your effort will be rewarded with a mind-boggling vista of Havana downtown area.