“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 collapsed.
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.
The Capitolio seen from the roof of the former Hotel Bristol in Central Havana. This 1930s hotel was abandoned and fell into disrepair. Former employees of the hotel then decided to live in the building.
Exposed and dangerous wires, like these, are seen in buildings all over Havana
The youngest of four elderly brothers, who live together, in the ground floor apartment his family has lived in for four generations. Water infiltration has badly damaged the ceiling and walls of this home.
an inhabited building that is being supported by pieces of wood
a building entrance supported by pieces of wood
The floor in front of this young woman's apartment has caved in and large marble slabs have fallen down to the hallway below. The apartment has no running water and she has carry buckets of water carefully across the dangerous landing.
This fish tank belongs to a cobbler who lives and works in a building that partially collapsed. In 2011 there was a three story, one room deep collapse. The residents continue to live in what is left of the very unstable building.
An elderly lady spends most of her day in her wheelchair in her covered courtyard because her tiny room has no light or air circulation.
These three friends have moved in with another friend, as they have nowhere else to live.
A young couple and their baby live in this small apartment that has become so damaged by water infiltration that their belongings are moldy and it is no longer safe to use anything electrical.
Paintings and photographs depicting the revolution are very common among the elderly people in Havana.
The original stairs to this 78-year-old woman's home collapsed completely. They were replaced by a four meter-high, rickety, homemade staircase. A few years ago she fell down these stairs and broke her shoulder, hip and all her front teeth.
This man shares two small rooms with a group of friends.
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 curtain used to divide a one room apartment
children playing outside their home that has been built onto the surface of an original marble floor
A communal hallway in Old Havana - These loose hanging wires can be seen in most of the buildings of Old Havana.
This woman shares her apartment with her daughter and grandchildren. Although the apartment is airier and brighter than most, it is accessed by a crumbling staircase.
Many homes in Havana have Santería shrines. Santería is a system of beliefs that merges the Yorùbá religion (which was brought to the New World by West Africans) with Roman Catholicism.
Many homes in Havana are filled to the brim with mementos and religious icons.
Fuse boxes in the entrance of a building in Old Havana - These dangerously worn and outdated fuse boxes can be seen in the entrances of most of the buildings in Havana.
Two elderly brothers in their spacious, but mouldy home in Old Havana
a crumbling ceiling and staircase 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 crumbling staircase.
part of a small shrine in a home in Old Havana
Frequently the originally high-ceilinged rooms are divided up horizontally to create more floor space. In this cabaret performer's home the space has been divided twice, but many buildings are divided into three low-ceilinged levels.
A photograph of the woman who lived in this house during more prosperous times - Her four elderly sons now share the house.
an elderly woman in her tiny appartment in Old Havana reminisces about her younger days.
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 very rudimentary.
Catholic images and icons adorn most of the homes in Cuba.
A dancer cuddles her puppy in her one-room apartment - The cracked and sagging marble floor is typical of buildings throughout Havana.
Paint never lasts very long because of the humidity in the walls.
This abandoned hotel is now home to hundreds of people. Even the rooftop pool and the elevator shaft have been appropriated by people desperate for living space.
The one room dwelling where this woman lives has no windows or other ventilation so her doorway is left open whenever she's at home.
A typical crumbling staircase in Old Havana
This man, who had to have a leg amputated after he was hit by a car, has to drag himself down a dangerously crumbling staircase whenever he needs to leave his home.
a mouldy courtyard 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.
A woman standing at the threshold of her apartment -The tiles, like most of the features in Old and Central Havana, are original.