Babalú Exclusive – Havana: The New Art of Making Ruins (Part 1 of 6)

The first installment in a new, six part series written exclusively for Babalú by Cuban American engineer, Humberto (Bert) Corzo:

Havana: The New Art of Making Ruins –Part 1 of 6

This German documentary by filmmakers Florian Borchmeyer and Matthias Hentschler, a portrait of the inhabited ruins of Havana and their strange blend of magic and demolition, captures the final moments of the buildings before they simply collapse all together. The beauty and detail of the images, and the excellent use of the background music, enhance the quality and impact of the film.

Buildings frequently collapse causing fatalities. The decay of this city and its living quarters is a continues source of danger for its inhabitants.

The documentary displays the daily life of four people living among the ruins; Reinaldo in the Campoamor Theater, Totico in the old Arbos building, Marisleidys in the former Hotel Regina, and Nicanor del Campo in the family farm El Mayor. The writer Antonio Aponte explains the gradual collapse of the city on the complicity of the Castroit regime administration allowing it to rundown and lack of resources by the people to avoid it.

Viewing this film will break your heart; shown are skeletal buildings that seem deserted ruins, it’s impossible to accept that human beings inhabit these structures. Yet, to the buildings residents, they represent home, and memories of better times. These people make do with and lovingly tend their crumbling homes, even though they are powerless to stop their decay.

The hollow buildings look like a war zone, reminiscent of Berlin or Dresden at the end of WWII. However, these ruins were not created by war, but by deliberate neglect. The narrator sees them as a logical construct of Fidel’s speeches–Havana has become an architectural illustration of Fidel’s decade’s old use of a possible U.S. invasion to justify his absolute power.

By the end of the film, your tears will be replaced by an impotent rage when you remember how many journalists, tourists, and embassy workers must have witnessed this devastation, and have chosen to remain silent.

Homeless Reinaldo has found shelter in the rubbles of a theater in which once Enrico Caruso sang for Cuba’s high society, the Campoamor Theater. In the background music we can hear Caruso singing “Una furtiva lágrima” from Donizetti. In 1953, Josephine Baker performed in this theater located near the Capitol Building.
Campoamor Theater in the 1950s (via,+La+Habana+Foto+3+L%C3%A1zaro+Sarmiento.JPG
Campoamor Theater in 2006

Notice the deteriorated facade with the large wooden doors nailed with sloping pieces of wood. In front of the building, two large dumps of was once one of the most important and beautiful theater building of the city, in which great artist used to performed from the 1920’s to the 1950’s.


Humberto (Bert) Corzo was born in Cuba. In 1962 he graduated from University of Havana with a degree in Civil Engineering. Since coming to the United States in 1969, he established his residence in Los Angeles, California, where in 1972 he obtained the registration as a Professional Engineer. He has over forty five years of experience in the field of Structural Engineering. He is a Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Cuban-American Association of Civil Engineers.

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