Sustainable Performance in Heritage Architecture and the Havana International Charrette NDI INSIDER PROJECT 2019: SPRING BREAK FIELD TRIP TO HAVANA, CUBA

Designing for sustainable performance in heritage architecture warrants learning from past and present buildings and cities to design for the future. In March 2019, ten undergraduate students and three faculty/staff from Notre Dame from Engineering and Architecture applied their unique and complementary skill sets to tackle issues facing Havana in the 21st century, including energy, sustainability, resilience, traffic and transportation, natural hazards, social factors, and building techniques (including urban morphology and typology) – and derived conclusions within the complex dynamics of this rapidly modernizing society.


  • Xingjian Zhang, Major in Architecture
  • Henry Till, Major in Civil Engineering
  • Brianna Zawacki, Major in Civil Engineering
  • Christina Zoldak, Major in Civil Engineering
  • Briana Davison, Major in Architecture
  • Jake Gillespi, Major in Architecture
  • Caroline Kurtz, Major in Architecture
  • Olga Handal Salomon, Major in Architecture

Project leaders on site

  • Julio Cesar Perez-Hernandez, Associate Professor of the Practice, School of Architecture.
  • John Onyango, PhD, Associate Professor, School of Architecture
  • Consuelo Antonio, Program Coordinator for Resiliency and Sustainability of Engineering Systems, Civil & Environmental Engineering & Earth Sciences

Off-site coordination

  • Anne Berges Pillai, Education and Outreach Associate Program Director, ND Energy
  • Kevin Quinn Walsh, PhD, PE, LEED Green Assoc., Director of Resiliency and Sustainability of Engineering Systems, Assistant Teaching Professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering & Earth Sciences

This experience broadened students' perspectives by exposing them to cultural differences and local responses to cities and buildings; challenging them with critical geographic thinking, location-based data collection, analysis and management, and visualization; and inviting them to chart the outcome of their own experiences.

Havana International Study Tour

With the expert guide of Professor Julio Cesar Perez Hernandez, students participated in walking tours of the most representative places in Havana, some of them were:

Old Havana

The foundation of the city of Havana, its public spaces (a system of interconnected pedestrian squares) and its most important buildings that display a wide range of architectural styles.

Walking Tour "The Walls"

The students learned about the expansion of the city off the walls after they were torn down in 1863, and visited the buildings whose bigger print and scale transformed the image of Havana forever.

Walking Tour of El Vedado

El Vedado, laid out by Spanish Engineer Luis Yboleon in 1859, marked the birth of modern planning in Cuba. It was based on a perfect grid rotated 45 degrees to the North to better catch the prevailing breezes and avoid the sun . The neighborhood is considered the most important urban initiative since colonial times. The plan introduced the green in the city for the first time with tree-lined avenues and parterres, and provided a very effective and yet simple, model for separating the private and the public realm with a garden setback.

The students visited the University of Havana campus, laid out along a main axis flanked by a consistent group of Neoclassical-style buildings.

Thermal and Energy assessment at Iglesia and Convento de la Merced

Havana International Charrette

What is a Charrette?

It is a public process where people collaborate on a vision for future development. It provides a forum for ideas and offers the unique advantage of giving immediate feedback to the designers and contribute as part of a team.

The Havana International Charrette focused on El Vedado. The students, along with architects, planners, artists worked in proposals for the regeneration and development of El Vedado district and its waterfront area.

The Charrette had educational and professional purposes and gave participants an introduction to the history of Havana’s cultural heritage through close contact with its traditions, architecture and urbanism while focusing on the garden city of El Vedado and its waterfront area.
  • Test and evaluate the ideas of "A Master Plan for 21th Century Havana" for El Vedado district and their feasibility and implementation based on the city's current needs.
  • Promote an integrated vision between the natural condition and the built environment.
  • Promote and highlight the importance of a long-term vision for the garden city of El Vedado that preserves its fabric and character and grants social and cultural diversity.
  • Interact with local experts about the building environment and business possibilities in Cuba.
This trip was funded by Notre Dame International's Insider Project, which supports faculty-led initiatives and opportunities for global education.