Saturday, August 16, 2008

Coffin mystery resolved?

A blogger nicknamed Professor P who writes Life in Academia says that her friend Julio Cesar says that Alberto Prieto was the architect who designed the intriguing Havana apartment building that looks like it has coffins lining the building's exterior (see previous post here). Thanks for the lead. I wonder if the story about how the supposed coffins came about is true - that the architect added the coffins because he was grieving over the death of his daughter.

I'll bet Mario Coyula knows. He is a wonderful Havana architect and urban planner I interviewed a few years ago. I am sending him an e-mail to see what he says.

Anyway, I found some biographical information about Prieto here (in Spanish). He is the same architect who designed the Hotel Vedado, which is just a few blocks east of La Rampa in Havana.

Another article mentions an Alberto Prieto apartment building. The architect lived until about the age of 90 and died in 1991.


alongthemalecon said...

Mario Coyula wrote to tell me he has heard the tale of the architect, but can't confirm for sure that it's true. In any case, he's not a fan of the building's architecture, although he says the tiles around the balconies helps protect them from the salt air.

Here is Mario's message (in Spanish):

Hola, Tracey!
Sólo conozco la leyenda de que el dueño del edificio perdió a un hijo, y eso lo motivó a pedir que los balcones tuvieran esa forma. Para mí, tanto la forma como el concepto son patéticos... Pero la iea de forrar los balcones en cerámica es buena en ese ambiente salino tan corrosivo.
Mario Coyula

ProfessorP said...

I'm the Professor P who posted the name I got from Julio Cesar. You can find more about me here:

I work with Julio Cesar Perez, who authored the text for Taschen's 'inside Cuba.' He's the source for the architect of the building

He and I have worked on urban design and architecture workshops for a few years now. Our current work is described here:

Maybe you can join us next March.

I'd guess that if Mario can't verify the urban legend about the building, Julio Cesar can't either. Regardless, I'll pass on the quesiton.

alongthemalecon said...


Thanks very much for your comments. Your architecture tours look fascinating. I'd love to go on one of those. I enjoy Cuban architecture. And I have written a few stories on the topic. Here's a link to one of them:

ProfessorP said...

Now we've got two sets of opinions - and they pretty well coincide. I'll enjoy checking out your architecture writings.

"What Mario says is true and it is what most people know about it.

On the other hand the building itself is not a very significant one except for being associated with the strange shape of its balconies.

Best regards:

alongthemalecon said...


leftside said...

As an urban planner/preservationist I have always wanted to go on one of those "charrette" trips to Cuba. Does the US government give licenses for these trips?

Tracy, I remember reading that piece on the Cuban Arts School years ago. What is the latest with the renovation??

alongthemalecon said...

The last I heard they were continuing with the renovation, but that was a while ago. I've lost track of it. Anyone know the latest?

alongthemalecon said...

One more bit of info - this from Ciro Bianchi, of the Cuban newspaper Juventud Rebelde:

Ciro has not seen anything definitive on the coffin mystery, but has read that the design is tied to the death of the daughter - not the son - of the building's owner

ProfessorP said...

"As an urban planner/preservationist I have always wanted to go on one of those "charrette" trips to Cuba. Does the US government give licenses for these trips?"
leftisde -

if your a 'registered professional' you can do 'independent non-commercial research' in Cuba. That is the way I've been making my trips there since my college's license wasn't renewed.

I'm a registered architect, and I've been doing research there for quite a while. That's how I've gotten involved in the Urban Design workshops with the Council for European Urbanism.

If you're interested in being a part of the workshop, please let me know. 'john at johnpilling dot net'.

I can put you in touch with our Norwegian friends as well as a travel agent who arranges licensed trips to Cuba.


JG Henriquez said...

Greetings Professor P. I've just encountered these posts. While Alberto Prieto had much to grieve about after the revolution, as his daughter moved to the U.S., she did not pass away until 1996.