North American wooden architecture of the agricultural communities of Cuba

North American wooden architecture of the agricultural communities of Cuba

It is called North American wood architecture to the buildings of various models of the bungalow typology, similar to those of the peoples of the old North American West, limited in Cuba to the framework of agricultural colonies founded by American, Canadian and English immigrants from 1899, of which some last until our days.

Historical context of North American architecture in Cuba

The North American intervention in the warlike conflict between Spain and Cuba in 1898 and later the first occupation (until 1902), conditioned the flow of Anglo-Saxon migrants on the island who, being favored by a cunning annexation campaign - once the period of occupation was over - gave rise to development of some 37 farming communities of settlers of this ethnic group, one of them settled in the current territory of Las Tunas: Bartle and Omaja, located on the strip where the Central Railway of Cuba passed.

Both settlements were populated during the first three decades of the 20th century by settlers from the United States, Canada, Scandinavia and, to a lesser extent, from other nationalities.

The foreign population imposed elements of their material culture, especially in the urban and architectural sphere typical of community settlements in the southern United States, following a kind of “tropicalized Anglo-Saxon”Given the natural conditions of Cuba.

Architecture with this profile it constituted a constructive tradition in these communities during the period 1902-1925, conditioned by the stability of northern investments in commercial agriculture.

For the farmers or settlers settled in these agricultural colonies, it was much more important to build than to adhere strictly to the popular architectural style of the American peasant. However, they followed certain stylistic norms appropriate to the climate, temperature, relative humidity, relief and other aspects of the natural macro environment.

The purchase of land to build in Cuba

The investment companies that begin the process of purchasing these portions of Cuban land, the Cuban Realty Company Limited in Bartle and the Buenavista Fruit Company in Omaja, they employed their own engineers to delimit the acquired properties, as well as the layout of the plan of the settlements, characterized by wide, straight streets and an area where the cemetery would be located, a pattern established in this type of community.

Plans like this served as promotional element fundamentally in the United States and Canada, which alluded in the press to "cities" in Cuba, when in reality the first houses were being built.

As part of the urban comfort in the towns, a network of essential services materialized such as commercial establishments, railway station, schools, churches, hotels, bakeries and industrial facilities, etc.

Architectural variants

The house was of type bungalow, built by carpenters of the own ethnic group and the collaboration of other members of the community.

This typology was limited in Cuba to the framework of non-sugarcane agricultural colonies due to the economic position of their owners, below the solvency levels of the settlers dedicated to the cultivation of sugarcane, and the composition of the family nuclei (generally of 3 to 4 members), who were the ones who determined the construction level of the buildings.

According to this level I conventionally define four variants of bungalow-style homes, of which reference is made below, detailing elements that identify them.

First variant:

Homes called stately homes, with two floors, generally with a loft that forms a third level with viewpoints towards four points in space.

The foundation is based on wooden or concrete piles with a height of up to one and a half meters from the surface of the land, favoring greater ventilation and avoiding humidity inside the property. Inside, we find spacious rooms with carpets on the floor and wide doorways in the surroundings.

Of this variant, only three dwellings were registered, one in Bartle and two in Omaja.

Of this variant, the Hotel Cuba and the Canadian Bull Family Home (both in Bartle). The second was built in 1903 at a cost of 42,000 pesos and was always the most ostentatious in the region. In Omaja it was that of the North American A. Homer Arter (Administrator of the Cuban Land).

These constructions caused a sensation among Cubans for a long time. Of this variant, about 10 homes are known throughout the central strip of Las Tunas.

Second variant:

Two-story with wooden pillars up to one meter high, smaller front and side portals, mainly on the first level, in some cases a half portal, with a smaller number of rooms and less spacious.

Third variant:

Biplanta type rectangular arranged in strips or paired, mounted on pillars less than half a meter high, with a front portal on both floors and gabled roofs, with a number of rooms ranging from 8 to 10, with an approximate width of 4 x 3 m .

These structures, due to their shape, were used interchangeably as housing, shopping and recreation centers.

Fourth variant:

Simple house mounted on very low height piles, with one or more portals of several waters in various combinations, used as commercial or gaming establishments and housing at the same time, or as housing alone. This variant was the most widespread.

General characteristics of wooden architecture

There are others details of the bungalow typology that are manifested in these communities and that are own of the four variants: protection of mezzanines with wire pile or slats, use of tongue-and-groove wood and other types of decking placed in various positions, presence of double lining, ceiling and polished floor, the ceiling over decking supported by corbels and medium-large doors (generally of two leaves) distributed, use of French windows, exterior step up to 6 levels.

Glass is used in doors and windows, decorated in many cases with interior curtains. Some kitchens were decorated with wooden latticework, which in many cases were protected by hangers.

Several elements characterize this type of architecture in the rural setting. Namely: few ornamental elements of the structures, absence of rooms for servitude, complementary structures adjacent to the house such as pens for birds and livestock, garages, premises in the form of sheds and hangers to store farm implements, saddles, storage of agricultural products and food for animals, among others, which together influence the perception and reading of these communities.

Forced by necessity and favored by the type of housing and the rainfall regime, most of the settlers built cisterns of different shapes and locations - inside or outside the house, supplied through gutters. Its preponderance in Omaja is due to the poor quality of the water in that area.

Complementary elements of architecture

Of the external complementary elements there are railings in the gates, fences, use of gates and fences in front of public places to tie horses or mules, among others. The paint in various colors, predominantly ash white, gave it a pleasant appearance as well as stylistic coherence, although many were not painted.

Associated with architecture Landscaped spaces were available on the lots and nursery was encouraged, including fruit, vegetable and ornamental plants, influenced by the ideology of progress and the "civilizing" thinking of its Anglo-Saxon carriers.
New elements of the flora are introduced: ornamental plants such as the parasol tree, the American witch, varieties of croton and garden guasima (Alcalypha Wilkesiana), Boston fern (Boston fern) and yours; They propagated areca, astronomy and a variety of cactus brought from the United States.

In addition, medicinal plants such as St. John's wort and others that belong to traditional medicine and magical-religious perception of the Cuban family and other ethnic groups, which marks a certain break with the traditional rural garden (lilies, bougainvillea, wild guanos, etc.), giving rise to a kind of tropical miscegenation as a contribution to the process of cultivating nature.

Decline of North American Wood Architecture

As the northern population declined and a new one made up of various ethnic groups grew, along with the deterioration of the forest sources in the area, a rupture of the initial style began to occur due to the economic impossibility of maintaining the same contractive line, also intensifying interest functionalist over aesthetic.

Current significance of North American architecture in Cuba

The presence of Cuban carpenters followers of the North American style, of which they only took some referential elements without reaching the exact repetition. Hence, it could be affirmed that the North American and the Cuban converge, where the foreign is nuanced by a domestic architecture, of which deterioration and inconsequential destruction have survived, some sensitive traces to the present day that allow comparatively observing the dialectical development of the Cuban culture.

This style has been used as an architectural reference today, in the so-called half portal chalets and in buildings mainly for the tourist industry, in which new construction materials and aesthetic and cultural attributes are used, defining with them elements of their own cultural identity.

About the Author:

Dr. José Guillermo Montero Quesada
Doctor in Historical Sciences
Study Center of the University of Las Tunas. Cuba


Montero Quesada, José Guillermo. Anglo-Saxon architecture in Bartle and Omaja. Quehacer Magazine of the Provincial Directorate of Culture of Las Tunas, No. 6, 2015. ISSN 1681-9837.
– _______ Anglo-Saxon colonization in the central strip of Las Tunas 1902-1935. Thesis as an option to the scientific degree of Doctor of Historical Sciences. Eastern University. Santiago de Cuba, 2011. Published in the thesis section of the EcuRed Virtual Library “Enciclopedia Cubana”. Legal deposit: 71205015310 and at
– _______ Anglo-Saxon presence in the central strip of Las Tunas 1902 - 1935. Editorial Sanlope, Las Tunas, 2010. ISBN: 978-959-251-332-7

Doctor in Historical Sciences (Universidad de Oriente, Cuba, 2012). Graduated in History and Social Sciences (Holguín, 1992); Degree in Sociocultural Studies (Las Tunas, 2010); Master in Educational Sciences (Havana, 1998); Master in Community Cultural Development (Las Tunas, 2008); Master's degree in Combat Sports (National Center for Combat Sports Studies, Holguín, 2009). Academic at the Center for Pedagogical Studies of the University of Las Tunas. Professor of the Sociocultural Studies career and member of the Academic Committee of the Doctoral Training Program in Historical Sciences (University of Holguín, Cuba). He has 25 years of experience in university teaching. He has taught numerous master's and undergraduate courses in several countries and tutored more than a hundred degree theses on various topics related to the profile of History, Culture and Anthropology. He has obtained important provincial and national awards in the field of History and other profiles of the humanistic sciences. He has numerous publications in books and specialized magazines in Cuba and other countries.

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