Jacques Levet, Jr.

Category: Architecture School

Terminal La Habana Vieja – An International Ferry Terminal For Havana, Cuba

Last week, President Obama announced major changes to American relations with Cuba that will greatly alter commercial and diplomatic ties between the two countries. This announcement came just a year after I paid a visit to the island to study its architecture and work on a design proposal for a project within Havana. My design was thankfully chosen to receive an Acanthus Award by the Chicago-Midwest chapter of the ICAA.

In 1960, the United States imposed a commercial, financial, and economic embargo on Cuba. Since this time, architectural development within the country has been almost nonexistent, and most of the capital city of Havana has fallen into a severe state of decay. Nonetheless, the architectural character of the city still shines through the neglect and offers a fantastic example of a traditional city for architectural study. As Michael Lykoudis, Dean of the School of Architecture at Notre Dame, says, the city is “one of the few intact cities that we have in the Americas that represents the connectivity to the European roots of American architecture.”

Map designed to demonstrate interconnectivity of proposed terminal to other forms of transportation infrastructure and international ports.

Map designed to demonstrate interconnectivity of proposed terminal to other forms of transportation infrastructure and international ports.

The project I developed was for a new international ferry terminal, the Terminal La Habana Vieja, located along the waterfront within the capital city. I started the project with the design and rendering of a map to demonstrate the international impact of such a terminal. The map was designed to highlight the interconnected transport systems that could be utilized with such a terminal and link the entire island to international ports. The main panel highlights the system of existing roads and railways that connect the hinterlands of the island both to the city and to the proposed terminal. The next panel, in the upper right, shows proposed ferry routes that would directly link this terminal to world ports. The routes were developed by first researching historical shipping routes used for travel and the transport of goods and then combining this knowledge with the statuses of current major ports in other countries. The last and smallest panel shows a view of the Morro Castle, which stands at the entry to the bay and would be viewed by all ships entering and leaving the port. The overall plate was laid out utilizing the self-replicating properties of the golden rectangle to both organize the sheet and to guide the views from panel to panel.

Terminal La Habana Vieja

Terminal La Habana Vieja

The design for the terminal started out with many challenges: there is no local precedence for a large ferry terminal in Cuba, passive cooling must be utilized for main spaces, and the site is directly in front of a historic waterfront walkway so that any proposed building will separate this public space from the harbor.

A precedent study led to the utilization of Spanish Cabildos, which are found throughout other Spanish colonies. The form uses the region’s vernacular architecture while maintaining a civic presence. It also demonstrates details and moldings capable with local materials that stand up to Havana’s tropical climate.

The designed plan adapts the Cuban courtyard for the main waiting room to allow for passive cooling, and the permeability of this central portion allows public access to the water. The two terminals, one for domestic travel and the other for international, are pushed to the sides of the building and form the two pavilions of the street and river façade. Commercial program was placed along the street. The central tower becomes the terminus for a series of streets and continues a Havana tradition of towers marking transit terminals. The height of the tower was also made so that it can be seen from the dock of the arriving boats, aiding in understanding the organization of the building before entering.

Visiting and designing within Havana was a remarkable experience that proved to be quite timely.  Below is a collection of images from the research trip that shows the current state of decay of most of the city.






Bath, England Part 2! – A Georgian Townhouse and Society Hall

Proposed Townhouse Facade

Proposed Townhouse Facade

The previous post was regarding a proposed redevelopment in the World Heritage Site of the city of Bath, England.  Involved with that project was the design of two buildings, a row of adaptable townhouses and a Bath Society Hall and Conference Center.  Excitingly, my design for the Society Hall was chosen by our jurors to represent the design team by being included in the master plan and presented to the Bath Council!

I found the first project, the row of townhouses, particularly interesting, as it was my first residential design project while at Notre Dame.  The homes were to be three-and-a-half story single-family homes, the common fabric building found throughout the historic city.  What made the project challenging was that the homes had to allow for future adaptation into flats or offices on individual floors, and two plan configurations had to be developed: one for the single-family residence and one for the series of flats. In my personal research, I found that a lack of accessibility is also a major problem in the historic part of the city and is causing an aging population to seek residence elsewhere.  Noticing this, I also wanted my townhouses to be innately “visitable” by a person with a disability and also easily converted to become fully accessible if needed.

The townhouses found throughout Bath are often only two rooms deep to allow for light and ventilation and rely on a central perpendicular structural wall.  This makes it extremely difficult to reconfigure the various floors into separate flats when needed, a quickly realized design problem for this project!  The need of getting light and air deep into the interior rooms while retaining the character of the homes was a big challenge.  This need is especially important when considering converting the homes to flats.  My solution was creating an L-shaped floor plan that reversed itself with each townhouse.  This allowed for a small courtyard and enough open space to have privacy between the adjacent homes.  This also allowed for the general composition of the floor plan to remain similar to its historic models as well as maintain other characteristics such as the firewalls, rear gardens, and seamless front facades.

While I thought the first project was difficult to resolve in plan, the second design contained challenges all over the place!  The Bath Society Hall and Conference Center held two unique and separate programs in one building.   The building’s footprint was pre-determined and quite irregular.  And to make it even more difficult, there were three main entrances, three main level changes, and SIX highly-visible facades! ….all of this was to be carried out in the highly regular and strict Georgian language.  Needless to say, this was a study of organizing a building’s plan, spatial hierarchies, the architectural ‘promenade,’ centering and re-centering, etc.

After much trial and error, my final solution finally separated the two programs while maintaining the footprint that was allocated for the building.  After the review, the panel of jurors, which included architect Michael Dennis, voted to have my design represent the class in our master plan for the area when presented to the Bath Council on our trip to England.

For more information on the project and for pictures from the design team’s presentation in Bath, see my last post!

A Development within a World Heritage Site – Bath, England

For a full semester, our design studio focused on redeveloping an area in Bath, England, a World Heritage site known for its 18th-century Georgian buildings.  After focusing on numerous projects located within the city, the team traveled to England on a grant-funded trip to experience the city first-hand and present the design to the locals!


The Circus – Bath, England

The beginning of the project was a team effort in developing a master plan for an area in the fold of the river Avon, east of Manvers street, near the Bath Spa Railway Station.  Most of the city within the World Heritage site contains stunning Georgian townhouses and civic buildings.  This area, however, is less fortunate in its development and consists of modernist office buildings, multiple parking lots, a police station, and a large mail-sorting office.  Each of these is slated to either be moved to another site or have a short projected lifespan, opening the site for development in the near future.

Axonometric View of Existing Conditions (shown from the SE)

Axonometric View of Existing Conditions (shown from the SE)

The history of the site involves an initial development plan by John Wood the Elder, with which he proposed a large octagonal basin surrounded by an elevated portico supporting terraced buildings.  With the colossal size of the project (the space alone measured 1040x624ft), it was only partially completed.

The team’s resulting plan for the neighborhood envisions reinstituting traditional urban blocks and spaces, utilizing the building types found throughout the city.  A necklace of public spaces was formed by a number of mixed-use buildings.

Axonometric View of the Proposed Redevelopment (shown from the SE)

Axonometric View of the Proposed Redevelopment (shown from the SE)

Above, one can see the redevelopment in its final phase.  An elegant gate welcomes those arriving by train into Ralph Allen Court, an intimate plaza lined with shops and apartments.  With the river now being used for pleasure instead of utility as it was in the past, an emphasis was placed on how to face the river as well as providing public access to the water.  Thus, the spaces are designed to bring the visitor further through Padmore Square and into Riverview Terrace.  At this interesting location near the bridge, a new home for the Bath Society Hall and Conference Center is planned, which was designed in detail in another project.  Fronting Riverview Terrace is a large row of adaptable terraced houses, also designed in detail.  A series of mews provide access to the rear of buildings for private use and more utilitarian purposes.  An open-air market hall is strategically placed at the connecting point of the Riverview Terrace and Forum Square and stands directly in front of a descent to the water, similar to the Porta Ripeta in Rome. This connection to the water continues along the river with a riverside walkway along the entire project.  The sunken parking lot in front of the large St. John’s Church is kept but is simply covered to create a formalized public garden.

In the research stage, a Georgian building used as a post office was found hidden among the modern postal sorting office, disguised by a large, shed roof.  This building is uncovered in the plan and is set to remain serving as a civic building.  Coincidentally, the structure is aligned exactly with the center of John Wood’s plan, and a marker was set across the river at the midpoint of his proposed colossal forum.

River Elevation of the Proposed Design

River Elevation of the Proposed Design

Excitingly, after the project’s completion, the team won a series of grants to travel to Bath and presented the design to the City Council, local architects and developers, interested citizens, and several representatives from local organizations.  Both the Chairman of the Council and the Council Leader gave welcoming addresses.

In Bath, the team stayed in an 18th-century Georgian townhouse, and toured the city in its entirety.  While, that’s a topic for another post, here are a few pictures from our visit!

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The team involved with the design of this project and the produced drawings include Patrick Alles, Mary Elizabeth Bland, Taksit Dhanagom, Ricardo Gonzalez, Cameron Henry, Kelsie Hoke, Jacques Levet, Caroline Swinehart, Katherine Torvinen, Daniel Witt, Jingwen Zhao under Prof. Richard Economakis