HAVANA, Jan. 6th (IPSCuba) Describing the current situation of Cuban architecture, Abel Tablada, professor at the Faculty of Architecture at the U of Havana, pointed out that the “city is crying out to be taken care of in all aspects: from the urgent upgrade of the most vulnerable and precarious neighbourhoods to controlling the quantity and quality of design plans for new hotels.”
He believes that while architects and engineers are not being denied the opportunity to form part of state-owned micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in the construction sector, in reality, they are unable to work independently or offer services as specialist consultants.
“In spite of breakthroughs, there still isn’t a positive balance, as the result of meetings and answers to letters haven’t been very productive or respectful,” he told IPS Cuba’s editorial team.
Last November, official press reported that architect Yamill Roldan Herrera presented the local development project Vertice to the Arroyo Naranjo Municipal Government in Havana, which seeks to provide building solutions to residents in the La Guinera community and counsel to individuals and legal entities.
While the news was joyfully embraced by experts in the sector, micro and SMEs led by architects must disguise their activity “with terms that describe other authorized activities, which could encourage double standards and illegality, if they want to undertake architecture projects or work as specialist consultants,” Tablada warned.
Universo Garcia, the leading architect in U+D architecture Interior Design Studio, “discriminatory building practices lead to environmental impoverishment in Cuban neighbourhoods and cities, which is made worse by construction projects undertaken by new investors, without counsel.”
This expert believed that 2021 was “a crucial year in terms of planning and reasoning with the highest Cuban authorities about the importance of authorizing independent professional practice in architecture and engineering activities, that should be a real companion to construction projects.”
With new categories of economic actors banned from giving a boost to architecture and urban planning in Cuba, “legalizing studies and groups that contribute to society without legal recognition” is not yet possible,” he pointed out.
On the other hand, he drew attention to the lack of information and specialized reviews about architecture and urban planning in the media. In this regard, the professor pointed out that the national press did not cover the day awards were handed out at the National Architecture and Urban Planning Exhibition, or the first Home Design Competition and City Award.
According to Garcia, this shows “society’s lack of understanding about the importance of our profession, because citizens’ quality of life in a country is intimately linked to the quality and performance of spaces to serve their everyday purpose, on a city, neighbourhood, building and residence scale.”
In 2021, the architecture and engineering association in Cuba developed several initiatives as part of a call to legalize the independent practise of these professions. Meetings were held between representatives from the sector and different ministries. Over 700 professionals signed petitions that listed current architectural issues on the island.
Balance and goals
Talking about achievements last year, Universo Garcia mentioned the “thriving creation of independent architect studios and groups in Havana and other provinces, such as Cienfuegos and Ciego de Avila, which was confirmed at the National Architecture and Urban Planning Exhibition, at the Housing Competition and in different national and international spaces dedicated to architecture.”
The expert announced that in 2022, he will continue to insist on the cultural promotion of architecture, to educate the population, create a Professional Register, approve a Cuban Architecture Act, as well as founding a body that will regulate competitions to select the best architecture projects.
For his part, Tablada hopes that the architecture and urban design activity doesn’t completely depend on a state-led body or other kinds of companies whose main purpose is construction.
“A studio or office needs to be recognized as an independent entity, able to take part in competitions and bids, while experts should be able to be hired privately, by construction companies and government bodies,” he pointed out.
He added that “independent activity is a compliment and not the denial of state activity, as the latter is unable to cover all of the design needs of a city such as Havana and other provinces.”
“As a result,” he concluded, “the Cuban Government needs to eliminate red-tape and understand that design and consultancy services are a much-needed link in construction’s productive chain.