Design and Culture in Cuba

Image of Buildings in Cuba
Location: Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Santiago, Cuba; Miami, Florida
Language of Instruction: English
Term: Winter Break
Program Type: Faculty-led

  • Experience Cuba at this historically important time
  • Visit historical and culturally significant sites in Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Santiago
  • Travel through the picturesque rural Cuban landscape
  • Research Cuban design history at The Wolfsonian-FIU Design Museum
  • See contemporary art and architecture in Miami Beach.
  • Receive up to 6 credit hours
  • No language experience required

Depart Kansas City for Miami: January 2, 2020

Depart Miami for Havana: January 5, 2020

Depart Santiago de Cuba for Miami: January 15, 2020

Depart Miami for Kansas City: January 15, 2020 (if flight schedules allow)


Miami, Florida: Nicknamed the ‘Capital of Latin America’, Miami is an American city with a Spanish-speaking majority. 35% of its population is of Cuban origin. Since the early 1960s the Cuban exile community has greatly influenced its art, culture, and politics.

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.

Sierra Maestra and Santiago, Cuba: The Sierra Maestra is the largest mountain range in Cuba. During the Cuban revolution Fidel Castro chose this area as his headquarters. Santiago, the second-largest city in Cuba, is closer to Haiti and the Dominican Republic than to Havana in both spirit and history. This Afro-Caribbean city is known as the county’s cultural capital. 

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 fifth offering of the program, we will explore the history and culture of the changing Cuba. Activities will highlight Havana’s, as well as Cienfuegos, Trinidad, and Santiago’s, uniqueness and character. In Miami we will discover the cultural influence of the Cuban exile community in South Florida. 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 both Cuba and Miami.

  • Required course: ADS 532 / LAA 302 Design and Culture in Cuba (3 credit hours)
  • Optional course: ADS 533 / LAA 302 Study Abroad Documentation (3 credit hours)

During the fall semester, KU students will be expected to attend presentations and discussions in order to be acquainted 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.  This course is cross-listed with LAA 302: Topics In: Design and Culture in Cuba.  Students not in the School of Architecture and Design can opt to receive credit through ADS or LAA.

ADS 533 Study Abroad Documentation:

This course includes relevant assigned research topics to be completed during the Spring Semester after travel initiates. 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.  This course is cross-listed with LAA 302: Topics In: Design and Culture in Cuba.  Students not in the School of Architecture and Design can opt to receive credit through ADS or LAA.

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). In Miami, participants will stay in 4-8 person occupancy rooms at a hotel in Miami Beach.  

Miami and Miami Beach: Participants will visit The Wolfsonian-FIU (Design Museum), 1111 Lincoln Road and the Pérez Art Museum (both designed by Herzog & de Meuron), the Wynwood Walls, the Miami Design District, and Little Havana. Participants will also walk Ocean Drive and visit the South Beach Art Deco District.

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, Che’s former home in Havana, eat at some of Havana’s best small restaurants, and see a live Jazz performance at La Zorra y el Cuervo. Participants will also visit Plaza de la Revolución and Monumento a José Martí. Additionally, they will have the opportunity to visit Las Terrazas, an eco-community of artists & coffee growers.

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

Sierra Maestra: Participants will experience magnificent views as we hike to the Comandancia de la Plata in the Sierra Maestra, following in the footsteps of Castro’s revolutionaries.  This is a one-day, moderate difficulty hike.  Accommodations can be arranged as needed for students unable to complete the hike. 

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).  Students should have a moderate level of physical fitness to engage in the hike to Comendancia La Plata.

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 an assistant 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.

For More Information Contact:

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