Design and Culture in Cuba

Image of buildings in Cuba
Location: Havana, Cienfuegos and Trinidad, Cuba
Language of Instruction: English
Term: Winter Break
Program Type: Faculty-led
Open to non-KU Students: No
Fulfills KU Core 4.2: No
Fulfills KU Core 5: No

This program is scheduled to be offered again in January 2025.

  • Experience Cuba at this historically important time
  • Visit historical and culturally significant sites in Havana, Cienfuegos and Trinidad 
  • Travel through the picturesque rural Cuban landscape
  • No language experience required

The times they are a-changin’. With President Obama’s December 2014 announcement of renewing relations with Cuba and with the reopening of the U.S. embassy after 54 years, a new era has dawned on the Caribbean island. This small country that played a major role in the Cold War is a shell of its former glory. Everywhere are reminders of its former connections with the U.S. and later with the Soviet Union. Today’s post-Fidel Cuba is a country that wants to rebuild and reconnect with the outside world.

In this our sixth offering of the program, we will explore the history and culture of the changing Cuba. Activities will highlight Havana’s, as well as Cienfuegos and Trinidad’s, uniqueness and character.  Participants will research how our perceived ideas of Cuba, developed through media (news, books, films, TV, tourism advertising, and propaganda), compare with the reality of place. We will study architecture, design and culture through city tours, museum visits, and adventures with locals in Cuba.

Havana, Cuba: Intoxicatingly colorful, deeply intriguing, Cuba is a place like no other. The culture of Cuba is a complex mixture of different, often contrasting, factors and influences. Cuba is a meeting point of European, African, Chinese, and continental North American cultures. Since 1959, the Cuban Revolution has also greatly affected Cuban culture, down to the most basic aspects of daily life. Cuba’s capital and largest city, Havana, is central in any discussion of the island. Founded by the Spanish in the 16th century, today’s Havana has three distinct areas: Old Havana, Vedado, and the city suburbs. Each area has its own distinct style of architecture and urban feel.

Trinidad and Cienfuegos, Cuba: Located on Cuba’s southern coast, southeast of Havana and near the Escambray Mountains, Trinidad is an open-air museum of colonial architecture and city planning. In 1988 this small city was recognized as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites. Cienfuegos, known as Cuba’s Pearl of the South, is a beautiful port city with a distinctive French cultural influence.

  • Required course: ADS 532 Design and Culture in Cuba (3 credit hours)
  • Optional course: ADS 533 Study Abroad Documentation (3 credit hours)

In advanceo of travel, KU students will be expected to attend presentations and discussions in order to become acquainted with the history and culture of Cuba. Students will be given a variety of research assignments to prepare prior to travel. Assigned readings and videos to watch will also be included in this prep work.

ADS 532 Design and Culture in Cuba

Studio course where students will observe, take note and document the architecture, design, art, and culture of Cuba. Prior to departure each student will choose several subjects to research and observe while abroad. Subjects can include anything that is part of everyday life in both cities. Students will document their subjects by collecting images, making sketches and writing observations. A book and exhibition featuring each students’ collections will be produced to document this experience.  

ADS 533 Study Abroad Documentation

This course includes relevant assigned research topics to be completed during the second half of the spring semester upon return from travel. Documentation of the travel experience itself will satisfy the rest of the requirements for credit. In a photographic and literary journal of the trip, students will keep notes, reflections and visual information for evaluation by the instructors.   

Mandatory attendance is required at all scheduled visits during the program.

In Cuba, participants will stay in casas particulares (bed and breakfast accommodations in a private home). Rooms are double or triple occupancy.  Several group lunches and dinners are also included.  

Havana: While in Cuba, participants will explore historic sites, and see architecture (Colonial, Art Deco, Mid-Century Modern), participate in cultural activities as well as connect with Cuban designers, photographers, and students. Participants will explore La Habana Vieja (old Havana), visit the Museo de la Revolución, Monumento a Jose Marti, and eat at some of Havana’s best small restaurants.  Additionally, participants will visit Las Terrazas, an eco-friendly community of artists and coffee growers.  

Trinidad and Cienfuegos: Participants will tour the colonial architecture of Trinidad, meet with University of Cienfuegos faculty and students, visit sugar barons' castles, and experience AfroCuban culture.


SAGE is dedicated to creating international engagement opportunities that meet the needs of all our students and providing resources to support you through the process of studying abroad. Study abroad is achievable for students of all identities including our BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ students, students with disabilities, and students with religious/non-religious viewpoints. Before selecting a program, consider how your identities may impact your experience abroad in unique ways and talk with your Program Coordinator about any program-specific concerns. Students with documented disabilities should discuss any accommodation needs with their Program Coordinator early in the planning process.

Check our Identity Abroad page and resources listed below for information specific to you and other students who may be on your program.

Open to all undergraduate or graduate degree-seeking students from any accredited U.S. college or university. Priority will be given to KU design and architecture students. Minimum 2.5 GPA required (exceptions considered after submission of a petition).  

Program Cost for Design and Culture in Cuba 

Tim Hossler As the former in-house art director for photographer Annie Leibovitz, Tim helped Ms. Leibovitz create her most memorable images, books and exhibitions of the late 90’s through the early 2000’s. Tim holds a degree in Architecture from Kansas State University (1993) and a MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art (2005). He was the Director of Design at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) and the Art Director of The Wolfsonian–Florida International University in Miami Beach before coming to KU in 2011. Tim is currently Chair of the Department of Design and an associate professor of Visual Communications. In addition to teaching he continues to work with artists, photographers and cultural institutions to create visual narratives. In 2012 he collaborated with British fashion photographer Tim Walker and art director Ruth Ansel to create Walker's book and exhibition Story Teller.

Kent Smith  is a Lawrence, KS based illustrator, designer, sculptor, maker, teacher, problem-maker, problem-solver, mad scientist, time-traveler, dimension-hopper and the mayor of Smittytown.  His work can be found on toys, beer labels, masks, huge woodblocks and tiny trading cards. Working both independently and collaboratively, Kent embraces challenges and loves solving difficult problems. Using crazy brain-powers and a variety of media, Kent delivers solutions chock full of play, story and unexpected connections. Kent helps shape reality and builds creative community by co-hosting monthly life-drawing sessions (Thieves Guild and Percolator), drop-in sketchbook (Percolator) and drawing groups (Lawrence Urban Sketchers). Kent celebrates teaching in the Design Department at the University of Kansas as well as working with the Lawrence Arts Center, The Percolator, VanGo and other community organizations. Kent loves super-heroes, ninjas, monkeys, UFOs, cryptids, robots, ray-guns, and romance.


For More Information Contact:

Tim Hossler, Chair and Associate Professor
Design Department, School of Architecture and Design
Office 136 Marvin Studios

Kent Smith, Foundation Year Coordinator and Assistant Teaching Professor of Illustration & Animation
Design Department, School of Architecture and Design